Hitzfeld wary of Celtic threat

Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has warned that Celtic FC could ruin FC Bayern München's UEFA Champions League return.

It has been a long ten months for FC Bayern München. Ever since being eliminated from the first group stage of last season's UEFA Champions League, the Bavarians have been looking forward to the opportunity to make amends.

Impatient Bayern
The German champions welcome Celtic FC at the Olympiastadion on Wednesday night to kick off proceedings in Group A, and coach Ottmar Hitzfeld admitted on Tuesday that he could not wait to start the European season. "Last year was obviously disappointing for the club and we have been waiting for this chance to play in the tournament again for a long time," he said. "Now the wait is over and we are really looking forward to [Wednesday's] game."

Tough proposition
The coach has warned his players that Celtic will be a tough proposition, saying: "Celtic proved last season in the UEFA Cup that they are an international team of the highest standard. We have to make sure that we are on our toes throughout the game and that we don't get caught on the counterattack.

Great expectations
"We want to be back at the very top of the European game and our first aim is obviously to get through the first round, but even getting knocked out in the second round would be a huge disappointment."

Injured stars
Hitzfeld revealed that both playmaker Michael Ballack and striker Claudio Pizzaro were hopeful playing despite missing out on the 3-2 Bundesliga defeat against VfL Wolfsburg at the weekend. Midfield players Jens Jeremies and Sebastian Deisler are still out while full-back Willy Sagnol and winger Zé Roberto are also carrying injuries.

Celtic stricken
Celtic, meanwhile, have injury problems of their own with the defence being deprived of Ulrik Laursen, Stephen Crainey, Johan Mjällby and, most likely, Joos Valgaeren, although the Belgian defender faces a fitness test to see whether he is ready to return to competitive action. In Crainey's case, he faces six weeks out after damaging knee ligaments against Dundee FC last Saturday.

No crisis
Coach Martin O'Neill admitted that things could have looked better. He said: "We have a few problems in defence, but I wouldn't say that it is a crisis. We have good people coming in and we are going to go out there and enjoy it and play some attacking football."

Hartson undaunted
The Scottish side reached the UEFA Cup final last season and that has given the side valuable European experience. Striker John Hartson said: "I think a few years ago I would go to big places and be in awe of them. But now I am just looking forward to it and although we have respect for Bayern, we will go out there and battle all the way."

'We will give it a go'
"It certainly won't be easy," admitted O'Neill who has yet to decide whether to start with Hartson - who is still not 100 per cent match fit - and play Henrik Larsson in a more withdrawn role, or to play the Swedish striker together with Chris Sutton up front. "But we will give it a go."