Celtic FC manager Martin O'Neill admits his side face a sizeable challenge as they seek to defeat AC Milan.
By Alex O'Henley in Glasgow
Celtic FC manager Martin O'Neill admits his side face a sizeable challenge as they prepare for their final UEFA Champions League fixture against AC Milan at Celtic Park.
Nothing to spare
The Serie A side have already qualified for the knockout stages of the competition while Celtic need a win to guarantee third place in Group F and a place among the last 32 teams in the UEFA Cup. A draw or a defeat would leave the Scottish champions looking for a favour from FC Barcelona, who take on FC Shakhtar Donetsk with the Ukrainian side also vying for a victory that could ensure a third-place finish depending on events in Glasgow.
"We are playing a side who won the Italian championship last year, who won the Champions League the previous year and who are flying again this year," said O'Neill. "They are coming here looking to clinch the group, so it's going to be a mammoth task for us. But having said that we must be up for the game and approach it in a positive manner.
"It will be almost impossible not to hear what's going on in the other game," the Celtic manager continued. "Initially we're in a position where we don't have to worry about it, but we are playing Milan and I think there will be the occasional thought as to what's happening over there."
Celtic have a number of injury concerns with full-back Didier Agathe and midfield players Stilian Petrov and Stephen Pearson all struggling for fitness. Agathe was able to train on Monday but his manager rated his and Pearson's chances of recovering from groin injuries as "pretty doubtful," while Petrov will be given until the last minute to recover from an ankle problem sustained in Saturday's 2-1 victory against Hibernian FC.
'In our hands'
While acknowledging the significance of the game in Ukraine, striker Chris Sutton claims Celtic are in control of their own destiny and must go all out for the win that would prolong their European adventure beyond Christmas. "It would be a massive disappointment if we were not in European football after Christmas," he said. "We know how difficult it's going to be with the quality of players they've got, but it's in our own hands. We're in pole position for the UEFA Cup spot and we have to make sure we do our job and try to win."
Milan are also restricted by injuries after Danish striker Jon Dahl Tomasson hurt his back during Saturday's 2-1 win against Parma FC. Defenders Kakha Kaladze and Cafu are nursing thigh and knee injuries respectively while long-term absentees Jaap Stam and Filippo Inzaghi are out with ankle problems.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti knows a point will take his side through as group winners, but is promising to resist the temptation to rest most of his star players. "We will play the best Milan team," said Ancelotti. "It will be quite difficult to play in this stadium with a big home crowd behind Celtic but we will put out our best side."
Former Rangers FC midfield player Gennaro Gattuso is one of the players who might be rested having already picked up two bookings, but the Italian international said that whoever was selected, the Rossoneri would be going all out for the victory. "I'm expecting a hard game because it is important for Celtic to win and they need the three points to get into the UEFA Cup," he said.