Celtic FC's Charlie Mulgrew says the Scottish champions go into Tuesday's Group H fixture against second-placed AC Milan knowing only a win will do. "You never know," he added.
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Celtic FC's UEFA Champions League Group H encounter with AC Milan is a "must-win" match for the Hoops according to their defender, Charlie Mulgrew.
Bottom of the section, the Glasgow side trail their second-placed opponents by two points but will move above them with one game to play if they prevail and AFC Ajax, in third, fail to get the better of FC Barcelona. However, a second loss to the Serie A club would end Celtic's hopes of emulating last season's achievement of reaching the last 16 and could even spell the end of their chances of UEFA Europa League consolation.
Knowing the equation facing him and his team-mates, the Scotland international said: "Our focus is qualifying from the group and it's still possible, but tomorrow night is a must-win. We'll start with [that attitude] tomorrow and you never know.
"You look to qualify for the next round of the Champions League. You can't say 'let's try and get third so we can play in the Europa League' − that's not how football works. We want to finish second and go as far as we can in this competition. It's fine to play in the Europa League as well, but it's not guaranteed either, so you have to go as far as you can in this competition."
Mulgrew has featured in all eight matches of Celtic's campaign, one which started in the third qualifying round. The 27-year-old was substituted late on in the reverse fixture at San Siro, where the Scottish title holders struck the crossbar through Anthony Stokes' free-kick and were unfortunate to fall behind to an Emilio Izaguirre own goal eight minutes from time. Sulley Muntari's subsequent strike sealed a 2-0 win for the seven-time European champions.
"That [first game] gives us a lot of belief," said Mulgrew, who on Saturday helped Celtic extend their unbeaten league run this season to 13 games with a 3-1 defeat of Aberdeen FC. "They had a couple of players missing that night. We took massive confidence from that match even though the result wasn't positive.
"You just have to look at the world-class players they have in the side to realise how difficult the game is going to be. We'll need to match them. Even if they have a couple of injuries, they have world-class players that can come in. It's going to be difficult for us to match them, but we'll have to do that."
Perhaps fuelling Celtic's motivation is the desire to atone for their 1-0 away defeat by Ajax three weeks ago, a performance which prompted Lennon to say his charges "were invisible" in the attacking third and that "I need a bit more from some players". Mulgrew knows the performance was not up to scratch in Amsterdam. "That wasn't acceptable that night," he said. "We'll all have to do better."