Efe Ambrose has tunnel vision

EFE AMBROSE has a vision.

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Efe Ambrose has urged his team-mates to do their own job before thinking of the Barcelona v Benfica game
Efe Ambrose has urged his team-mates to do their own job before thinking of the Barcelona v Benfica game

But for one night only, the far-seeing Nigerian international will look no further than the confines of Celtic Park.

While the 24-year-old de-fender would view the Hoops' participation in the last 16 of the Champions League as their just desserts for a campaign which has seen them defeat Barcelona and win away in Moscow, Ambrose knows his horizon must be set much closer this evening.

Winning against Spartak is all that is in his mind's eye.

What is happening in the Nou Camp, where Benfica will try to defeat Barca to deny Celtic that qualifying spot, will not concern Ambrose until he and his team-mates have done their job against the Russians.

For most, the temptation would be to enquire what is happening in the Catalan capital to establish precisely what you have to do against Spartak.

But, although this is his first season in the Champions League, Ambrose has enough experience to realise that taking your eye off the ball or mind off the job for even a nano second would be to invite serious trouble – and disappointment – to your door.

So, as he counts down the hours until the eagerly-awaited kick off, the normally straight-talking Ambrose is not even prepared to entertain the question of whether he believes Benfica can take anything against Lionel Messi and Co.

"We cannot look at that game," is his emphatic response. "What is happening in Barcelona is a game on its own.

"We really just have to do our own job, against Spartak.

"What happens in Barcelona is just part of football. The most important thing is for us to secure a victory against Spartak, then we can think about what has happened in the Nou Camp."

The shift of power which came with Celtic's defeat in Lisbon two weeks ago means that their fate is no longer in their own hands.

Undoubtedly, the worst possible scenario would be for Neil Lennon's players to come off the pitch tonight having failed to win, then discovering that Benfica had fared no better, but had still gone through by virtue of the better head-to-head record.

Again, the fully focused Ambrose handles the question with the same ease with which he clears a speculative high ball into the penalty area.

"We're not thinking about the worst that could happen," he said, the words backed by a steely stare which acted as an underscore.

"We are only thinking about winning our game and our place in the last 16. That is all we are working towards.

"We know we have to win because we are not counting on Barcelona to do the job for us."

Benfica have already upset a few around Parkhead by claiming Barca tried to help their friends from Glasgow by offering something less than full resistance when they played and lost at Celtic Park last month.

As anyone who watched the relentless efforts of Messi and his team-mates will testify, that is an accusation as wild as some of Scott Brown's T-shirts. Only time will tell what Benfica make of the effort made by Spartak to burst the Celtic bubble tonight.

Given that they are already out of contention even for a Europa Cup spot, missing a clutch of important players, and in the midst of a domestic meltdown, they could be excused for not prioritising this game.

However, weighed against that is the fact the Spartak players have arrived in Scotland carrying something of a grudge as they do not believe the 3-2 defeat to the Hoops in the Luzhniki Stadium on Match Day Two was anything other than an injustice.

Some still harbour resentment about the way they lost in a penalty shoot-out the last time they visited here, denying them a place in the Group Stage of the 2007 Champions League.

When considering Spartak's likely approach and application, however, the biggest imponderable is the effect created by the sacking of manager Unai Emery, who has been replaced in the interim by former boss, Valery Karpin,

Ambrose has closely followed the Moscow circus and state Spartak have got themselves into, and recognises a need to be more vigilant than ever. He said: "Spartak have nothing to lose. They will just come here to play football.

"That makes it difficult because we believe we HAVE to win to secure our place.

"So, for them, there is no pressure as they are already out. We will be the team under pressure.

"But, with the fans behind us, and with the atmosphere at Celtic Park, I don't think Spartak can withstand us.

"That's what makes this place so special. When it comes to the Champions League, I have never seen anything like this anywhere else.

"I believe, when the fans come out and cheer us, it gives us more motivation in everything we have to do to make sure we do not disappoint them."

That has happened at Celtic Park far too many times in recent weeks, though, to be fair to Ambrose and his team-mates, not when they have been playing Champions League matches.

Nevertheless, the draw with Arbroath at the weekend was not the way they wanted to build up for tonight's game.

But Ambrose can think of no better time to get back to winning form on their own ground.

He said: "I believe everything happens for a reason, and we know where we're going wrong and what is lacking.

"We could not convert our chances on Saturday. At home, something is missing. But we are going to fix that."

If they can, Ambrose can look forward to yet another new experience – the chance to play in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Indeed, 2013 could be an epic year for the man signed from Israeli club, FC Ashdod, in August, though he could find himself at the centre of a club v country tussle to kick it off.

Nigeria have qualified for the African Cup of Nations, which takes place in South Africa from January 19 until February 10.

Ambrose's performances for Celtic have made him a strong candidate to be selected, but Celtic will be loathe to lose him at an important point in the season. The player is philosophical and said: "It is up to the club and the manager.

"But I want to represent my country because they gave me everything I have ever got in football.

"They have made me the way I am. So to play in the African Cup of Nations would be a first for me, and it would be be an honour to represent my country and see if we can win this cup."


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