Though Serie A frontrunners Udinese Calcio need only avoid defeat by Celtic FC to reach the round of 32, coach Francesco Guidolin is certainly not taking qualification for granted.
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Francesco Guidolin holds all the aces as his side host Celtic FC needing only to avoid defeat to reach the UEFA Europa League round of 32 at the visitors' expense – the Udinese Calcio coach, though, is taking nothing for granted.
Guidolin's charges have responded well from the disappointment of defeat by Arsenal FC in the UEFA Champions League play-offs, successfully negotiating the twin challenges of UEFA Europa League and Serie A. Despite losing Gökhan Inler and Alexis Sánchez in the summer, the Friulani are joint-top in Italy after 14 matches while in Group I they lie second, two points behind Club Atlético de Madrid. Avoid defeat on Thursday and a place in Friday's round of 32 draw is theirs.
"We are focused on making a concerted effort to get through," said Guidolin, whose side have won two out of two so far at the Stadio Friuli. "We really want to go through and we see this Celtic game as a final – so we have got to be prepared. It will have to be a fine Udinese performance to get the better of a strong, well-prepared side with a great tradition like Celtic."
He speaks from experience: it needed Almen Abdi's late spot kick to salvage the Zebrette a 1-1 draw when the sides met in Glasgow on matchday two. "We now know some of the Celtic players a bit better, but tomorrow will be a different game with its own story," Guidolin added. "They have some good individuals and are a very well-organised side. We have got to be very, very, very careful."
Used sparingly in the competition, it remains unclear whether or not captain Antonio Di Natale will start against Neil Lennon's side – Serie A's joint highest scorer says he will be ready if called upon. "We need to do everything we can to go through," said the Italian international. "We're playing a big team and we're hoping to win but we just need to focus; otherwise we'll end up having to watch the next round on TV."
Lennon needs no introduction to Di Natale, though he stresses the striker is merely a bright star in an impressive constellation. "It's hard to tell what Udinese's first team is because it's such a strong squad," the Celtic manager added. "[Whoever they field] it is going to be a really tough proposition, but we know what is at stake and what we have to do."
The Hoops arrive with a degree of confidence after claiming a sixth successive league win at home to Heart of Midlothian FC on Saturday. As they seek the victory that will take them through, the 1,600 travelling fans will be eager to linger longer over that than the fact they have managed a solitary win in nine European away games.
"We've seen an improvement in the team with each of our Europa League games and we're treating this as a cup final," said Lennon. "Our record away from home in Europe is a bugbear – there is no better time to break it."