EXCLUSIVE: Frank McAvennie says Celtic fans can be G force in Europe

It was Martin O'Neill's holy grail during his time with Celtic; Gordon Strachan became the first Hoops manager to do it.

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Former Celtic striker Frank McAvennie is confident the Hoops can qualify for the Champions League last 16
Former Celtic striker Frank McAvennie is confident the Hoops can qualify for the Champions League last 16

Qualifying for the knockout stages of Europe's premier competition, the Uefa Champions League, has become the goal for Scottish clubs in modern-day competition .

And, as Celtic prepare for their final game in Group G – a section in which they were not expected to make any kind of inroads – Neil Lennon knows just how significant an achievement it would be were the Parkhead side to make it through.

Spartak Moscow, who are rooted to the foot of the table regardless of what happens, are the opponents in less than a fortnight's time in Glasgow. Celtic need to better whatever Benfica's result in Barcelona.

The biggest task for Celtic may be in ensuring they keep their focus and do not allow themselves to get caught up with events going on elsewhere.

Their goal will be to beat Spartak, an achievement that would enable them to finish the campaign with a very respectable 10 points.

It would be galling if that were not enough to take them into the knockout stages, especially after enjoying one of the club's best results in the modern era with the 2-1 win over Barcelona earlier this month.

Former Hoops striker Frank McAvennie expects Celtic to have the beating of Spartak, although he has called on the Hoops fans to replicate the atmosphere in the stadium the night they played Barca.

It is not so much that he expects visiting professional players to be spooked by the noise, but rather the energy and vibe gives Celtic's players a massive lift as they take aim for the last 16.

It's bound to be a nail-biting finale to what has been a fine Champions League campaign for the club, but McAvennie has backed Celtic to hold their nerve and come through it.

They will have to do it without Victor Wanyama, who is suspended, and Scott Brown, who desperately needs surgery to correct a hip complaint.

"I watched Spartak against Barcelona and thought they were very poor," he said. "They looked like a team who knew it was all over for them as soon as the game got under way.

"Celtic will be without two big players and guys who have been excellent for them in the Champions League this season, but they have enough to cope.

"I've always liked Beram Kayal as a player and he can take over from Victor.

"James Forrest could also be back for the game which would be another plus, but I do think Celtic are more than capable of going out and winning the match.

"They need to keep their nerve and stay confident but the fact is that they would all have taken this chance when the draw was first made.

"They have had an excellent campaign. They need to forget what is going on in Spain and make sure they go about doing their own job and getting the points."

He went on: "The night of the Barcelona game is one of the best atmospheres there has ever been inside Celtic Park.

"The place was jumping and, as a player, there is no doubt whatsoever that the passion and the vibe gives you a massive boost when you're playing in it. It makes you feel unbeatable. The support will have their part to play once more. It is a cliche that they can be a 12th man but they can certainly make a difference by putting on a show like that again."

Whatever the outcome of the game, Celtic are guaranteed European football after Christmas.

Consolation for failing to progress in the Champions League would come with a parachuted place into the Europa League, but it is the big prize now that Celtic will hanker for, especially since it has been within touching distance following the home win over Barca.

"I think Neil would have taken staying in Europe when the draw was first made but now that it is so close he will desperately want to make it through," said McAvennie.

"They have really posted notice of themselves this season because it is in the Champions League that people judge players and managers.

"Whatever happens, they need to sign off with a win. If they can do then I fully expect it will be enough to take them through and from there you just never know what might happen."

Given that the Catalans have already qualified, Lennon's fear may well be that they field a weaker side, knowing that the result is immaterial.

However, McAvennie believes as long as Barca pitch the spine of their side into action – Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi – that there are few teams who will live with them.

"There would be an outcry if Barcelona were to stick out a group of their kids," he said. "But, even allowing for that, if they go with the big three they could get away with playing whoever else they like and they'd still have a good chance.

"The bottom line is that Barcelona are not a team who like to lose, under any circumstances.

"The reason they are the club that they are is because winning is part of the fabric of their identity. They have pride every time they pull on the jersey and they know that if they are playing for Barcelona there is a certain standard to maintain.

"I think Benfica are a decent side, but I just cannot see that Celtic have anything to worry about.

"I am certain that Barcelona will win on their own turf. I definitely can't see Benfica going to the Nou Camp and winning."

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