Pukki: Celtic are better off for Barca beating

TEEMU PUKKI'S experiences in the Champions League with Celtic have been bitter-sweet.

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Teemu Pukki enjoyed going up against Barcelona's Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique despite the end result
Teemu Pukki enjoyed going up against Barcelona's Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique despite the end result

The Finnish striker enjoyed playing against some of the biggest clubs on the planet in Europe's premier club competition.

Getting the chance to line up against the likes of AC Milan, Ajax and Barcelona was, after all, one of the reasons he joined the Scottish champions.

And who would not savour running out at world-famous stadiums like the Amsterdam ArenA, the San Siro and the Nou Camp?

Yet Pukki failed to score in any of the five Group H games that he was involved in either as a starter or a substitute.

The 23-year-old was unable to prevent Neil Lennon's side failing to qualify for the knockout stages - or even the consolation Europa League.

But he is not despondent by the bitter disappointment of the failed campaign. In fact, the exact opposite is the case.

The £3million summer signing from Bundesliga club Shalke '04 has revealed he is determined to now be involved in the Champions League once again next season.

What is more, he is confident he and his team-mates will acquit themselves better in the future as a result of their continental outings this term.

"To get the chance to play in the Champions League was a big thing for me when I came to Celtic," admitted Pukki.

"I played some games in the Champions League with Shalke last season so I did know what to expect. It is a fantastic tournament to be a part of.

"I think that, although it was disappointing not to qualify for the knockout stages, everyone in the team gained good experience in Europe this season.

"We all want to get back there next term. We must keep trying our hardest in the league and winning games to make sure of our place in the Champions League.

"If we do make it back, we will know what to expect. We will be better prepared for the Champions League given what we have been through."

Pukki has also endured a difficult time domestically since arriving at Celtic during the summer transfer window.

He netted on his first-team debut in a 3-1 triumph over Hearts at Tynecastle in September after coming off the bench late on.

And he followed that up with a goal in a 2-1 win against St Johnstone in his first appearance at Celtic Park the following week.

Since then, though, the former FC Helsinki and Sevilla player has struggled. But he ended a 15-game scoring drought with the only goal of the game in the SPFL Premiership match against Hibernian at Parkhead on Saturday.

And he is optimistic it will be the start of a far better spell of form for him in front of goal.

"It had been a while since I had last scored so it was a nice moment for me to score against Hibs at the weekend," he said.

"I would like to think I can score all kinds of different goals. But as a striker it is always good to net from inside the six-yard box. I am sure it will help to increase my confidence in the coming games.

"It can be difficult when you are not scoring goals. That is what I am in the side to do.

"I am looking forward to the next game. It can't come quickly enough, to be honest. I am keen to play again soon and to score goals again."

Pukki was given the nod to start up front in the showdown with Barcelona in Spain by Celtic manager Lennon last week.

With the hosts running riot - they had stormed 3-0 in front after goals from Gerard Pique, Pedro and Neymar - he was taken off at half-time.

Charlie Mulgrew was brought on in an attempt to keep the scoreline down. His introduction to proceedings was, though, to no avail.

The Catalan superstars went on to romp to a 6-1 victory - the joint worst-ever result in Europe for Celtic.

Pukki confessed the heavy loss and the savage criticism they received - including from their own manager - had dented the confidence of every player involved.

However, he is confident that keeping a clean sheet against Hibs at the weekend has helped to lift the defence's spirits after the painful reverse.

And he is adamant that Celtic are in good shape both mentally and physically as they bid to repeat their league title and Scottish Cup double of last season.

"It had been a difficult few days for us of course," he remarked. "It was a very hard game on Wednesday night against Barcelona in the Nou Camp. We played against one of the best teams in the world.

"Having said that, we know we didn't play to the level we know we are capable of as a team. It was very disappointing.

"So I think the win over Hibs was important as it helped us put the Barcelona result to the backs of our minds. It has passed.

"It was a good victory for us. I think the fact the defence kept a clean sheet on Saturday showed great character.

"We can look forward with confidence. We must try to keep winning games in the league and in the cup and try to bring success to the club."

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