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Despite insisting his side "need to win to stand a chance of qualifying", Neil Lennon is bullish about Celtic FC's prospects of overcoming Club Atlético de Madrid on Wednesday after masterminding a ten-match unbeaten run and seeing his charges "grow in confidence as the tournament has gone on".
Since losing 2-0 in the Spanish capital on matchday one, Lennon's team have recorded Group I draws against Udinese Calcio and Stade Rennais FC and a morale-boosting defeat of the Ligue 1 outfit in Glasgow. Another home victory and third-placed Celtic will leapfrog their visitors, who, like Udinese, are two points better off at the top of the section.
"It's a huge game for us because they are a class side," said Lennon, boosted by the return to training of captain Scott Brown and defender Kelvin Wilson. "
They played very well against us in the corresponding fixture in Madrid, they won this tournament not so long ago and they have a team full of quality players. We need to win to stand a chance of qualifying. A draw might give us a slight chance but a win would make our chances a lot better."
Lennon's men, who have closed to within four points of Scottish Premier League leaders Rangers FC, are on a five-match winning streak. "It will be an open game and should be a good game because they are two very good teams," he added. "We have to be wary of conceding early, as we have done in a few of the games in this group, so we have to try and get on the front foot from the start.
"We've grown in confidence as the tournament has gone on. Players like Anthony Stokes have really made their mark and we seem to have found a system to suit us.
I'm delighted with the character we have shown. We got a real shot in the arm when we beat Rennes 3-1. We're taking this tournament very seriously and have enjoyed the competition so far."
Lennon's opposite number Gregorio Manzano has also enjoyed his side's European displays – particularly their recent 4-0 triumph over Udinese − and knows one more will suffice for them to reach the knockout stage. "If we win we're through," he said. "Three points will guarantee our place in the next round."
In order to prevail, however, the Liga team will need to cast their 4-1 weekend reverse at Real Madrid CF – a game in which Atlético scored first but were then reduced to nine men – out of their minds. "The team is fine," added Manzano. "It wasn't a positive result yet there's a lot we can take from the match.
We want to get far in the tournament and to do that we must take all the points tomorrow. It will be a similar team compared with the weekend."
Atlético have captain Antonio López and striker Falcao, the competition's 17-goal top marksman last term, back in training although both may have to settle for a place on the bench. Manzano said: "Falcao is here and fit to play – I don't know if he'll start or come on later but he's fit."
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