Martin O'Neill regards the Group A match against FC Bayern München as his biggest as Celtic FC manager.
By Alex O'Henley in Glasgow
Celtic FC manager Martin O'Neill regards the UEFA Champions League Group A fixture against FC Bayern München on Tuesday as his biggest match since arriving in Glasgow three-and-a-half years ago.
"It's a game of vital importance to us," said O'Neill, who knows that a home victory coupled with a win or a draw for Olympique Lyonnais against RSC Anderlecht in Brussels would guarantee his side a place in the last 16 and consign Bayern to an early exit from the competition for a second consecutive season.
Neil Lennon echoed his manager's words when he said: "
Getting through the group stages would be as big as reaching the UEFA Cup final [as Celtic did last season] because then you're one of the best 16 teams in Europe."
The only fresh injury doubt for Celtic concerns their goalkeeper, Magnus Hedman. The Swedish international had to be taken off at half-time in Saturday’s 5-1 league win at Dundee United FC after suffering a back spasm. Scotland goalkeeper Rab Douglas is on stand-by to play but O'Neill is hopeful that Hedman will recover.
"Magnus is improving but he didn't train this morning as a precaution," O'Neill explained on Monday. "We will see how he is tomorrow morning, but he's pretty hopeful of making it. I was pleased that Johan Mjällby played a whole game on Saturday after his injury and if it's necessary for him to play, at least he has the psychological boost of having played 90 minutes beforehand."
Despite Celtic's sparkling home record of 63 unbeaten matches in all competitions stretching back to August 2001, midfield player Lennon is convinced the Bayern players will rise to the challenge of ending their run in front of a 60,000 sell-out crowd. "Bayern have a pedigree and a tradition second to none," said Lennon. "
German players have a reputation for breaking records and they will see our home record as a challenge.
"Many of their players will have played in atmospheres that are on a par with tomorrow night and I'm sure they will revel in the atmosphere here at Celtic Park. But this group is as tough and as close as any of the groups and if we could get a result tomorrow, we would have half a foot in the door for qualifying"
Bayern arrived in Glasgow on the back of a narrow and unconvincing 1-0 derby win over TSV 1860 München at the weekend and coach Ottmar Hitzfeld knows his side will have to play better at Celtic Park if they are to stay in the competition.
"That kind of performance won't be good enough for the Champions League," said Hitzfeld. "We will have to improve tremendously. My hope is that my players save themselves for the match in Glasgow and that we will see another team out there.
It's often been the case that when Bayern have their backs to the wall, we show a strength that wasn't there before."
The resilience Hitzfeld expects of his team could well be required in abundance. Bayern's Brazilian winger, Zé Roberto, is a major doubt with a back injury and England midfield player Owen Hargreaves admitted the pressure was on. "It's a very important game for us," he said. "There are only two games left and if we don't win or get a draw, then we would be out - and that would be a disaster."