Celtic were landed in the Champions League’s latest Group of Death on Thursday – and manager Neil Lennon has admitted it couldn’t have got any worse after his side drew Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax.
The draw was made just hours after Celtic reached the group stages with a famous 3-0 win over Shakhter Karagandy at Parkhead, but Lennon admits his euphoria was short lived after the draw.
“It is the best and the worst draw we could have got. In terms of glamour I don’t think it comes any better than Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan but in terms of football it is probably the most difficult we could have got,” Lennon said.
“I think there is a lot of excitement and the hard work was already done and we can really enjoy this tournament now. In terms of traveling, and the players obviously, it is not that bad with three wonderful footballling arenas.
“We get the chance to lock horns with Barcelona again and we are looking forward to three more great nights at least at Celtic Park, and there is so much to savor about the draw.
“But from my point of view, and from a footballing point of view, it is going to be hugely difficult to even come through the first three phases of the group.”
Anthony Stokes scored a late winner with the only goal of the game away to Dundee United on Saturday, then welcomed the competition posed by new signing Teemu Pukki.
Stokes scored his 50th goal for Celtic at Tannadice just 24 hours after the club signed Finland striker Pukki from Schalke and 21-year-old Israel midfielder Nir Biton from FC Ashdod.
Dubliner Stokes has welcomed the new arrivals and said, “I haven’t really seen much of the new signings to be honest, but the scouting system here has been very successful over the last few years so I am no doubt they will add a lot of competition and quality to the squad.
“At a club like this it always happens. There are always players coming in and competition is good for everyone, it keeps everyone on their toes and I’m no different.
“My agent has been in touch with Celtic and we are waiting on them coming back. I am sure it will sort itself out. I love the club, they are a great bunch of lads and there is nothing not to love.
“I was delighted with 50 goals but the result was the most important thing.”
The Ireland striker knows he must deliver for Celtic in the coming months after strike partner Gary Hooper moved to Norwich.
He added, “There probably is a bit more responsibility but I am not feeling the pressure, I am playing my normal game.
“Since I came here my main aim has been to try to score goals and contribute to the team, and that is not going to change regardless of who comes in or who goes.”