Celtic v Benfica preview
Bhoys aim for perfect Champions League start against Portuguese visitors
By Jonathan Jurejko. Last Updated: 19/09/12 11:45am
Neil Lennon: Admits managing Celtic in the Champions League is a special feeling
SPL champions Celtic return to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in four years when they host Portuguese giants Benfica on Wednesday.
Boss Neil Lennon, who captained the Hoops to the last 16 in 2006-07, admits leading the Glasgow club in Europe's top club competition is "something special".
But he also realises his team faces a huge task if they can replicate his success as a player by reaching the knockout stage.
Celtic were drawn as fourth seeds in Group G and pitted against Spanish giants Barcelona, Russian outfit Spartak Moscow, as well as Benfica.
Knowing they must eliminate two of their rivals is a daunting prospect for Lennon and his men, but they will be looking to turn Celtic Park into a fortress as they aim to upset the odds.
The Bhoys have only lost two of their 18 home matches in the Champions League group stage.
Home form is again likely to be key to success in their 50th European campaign and beating Lisbon-based Benfica will represent a perfect start.
Of course, the mere mention of Lisbon provokes excitement among Celtic supporters after their legendary 1967 side became the first British team to win the European Cup when they beat Inter Milan in the Portuguese city.
And history is certainly on Celtic's side against Benfica. The Portuguese club have visited Glasgow on three previous occasions and have been defeated by their hosts every time.
But Benfica are a different proposition to the team which Celtic beat 1-0 in their last meeting in November 2007.
Jorge Jesus's side impressed many onlookers as they reached the quarter-finals of last season's competition at the expense of then-Premier League champions Manchester United.
The likes of Argentine winger Nicolas Gaitan and Paraguay striker Oscar Cardozo were two of their driving forces and are likely to be the dangermen for Celtic.
However, the two-time European Cup winners, who lost to eventual champions Chelsea in the last eight, will have to cope without the loss of another key pair if they are to replicate this success.
Midfielders Javi Garcia and Axel Witsel left for Premier League title winners Manchester City and Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg respectively over the summer.
Celtic have Giorgos Samaras (elbow), Anthony Stokes (ankle), Paddy McCourt (groin), Filip Twardzik (groin) and Beram Kayal (ankle) all sidelined.
Joe Ledley (groin) has not trained so is unlikely to feature, but Scott Brown is available despite tweaking a hamstring at the weekend.
Benfica will be without suspended defender Luisão, who was given a two-month ban for assaulting a referee in a pre-season friendly.
Defender Maxi Pereira is also banned, while midfielder Carlos Martins will miss the game through injury. Defender Luisinho has not made the journey to Scotland.
- Celtic's best Champions League performance is a last 16 finish in 2006/07 and 2007/08.
- Benfica have won the European Cup/Champions League on two occasions, in 1961 and 1962. Only Bayern Munich and Juventus have lost as many finals as the Lisbon side (5).
Previous game's starting line-ups
- 1 Forster
- 23 Lustig
- 4 Ambrose
- 5 van Dijk
- 3 Izaguirre
- 8 Brown S
- 6 Biton
- 16 Ledley
- 15 Commons
- 10 Stokes
- 20 Pukki
Team taken from Celtic vs Hibernian (Scottish Premiership) on Saturday 14th December 2013
- 1 Artur
- 14 Pereira M
- 4 Luisao
- 24 Garay
- 28 Silvio
- 5 Fejsa
- 21 Matic
- 90 Cavaleiro
- 11 Lima
- 19 Rodrigo
- 20 Gaitan
Team taken from Benfica vs SC Olhanense (Portuguese Liga) on Sunday 15th December 2013