NO SOONER have Celtic been praised for reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, than people are talking about which teams they want them to play in the knockout round.

I suppose no one should complain because the alternative, had Celtic failed to qualify, would be a winter with little to excite us.

But while Neil Lennon and his players controlled their destiny when it came to getting through, there is nothing any of them can do about the draw on Thursday.

And, let's be honest, whoever is paired with Celtic will be a top class side and very difficult to beat.

By the same token they will know Celtic are no mugs, as their results against Barcelona and Spartak Moscow prove, and that Celtic Park is a destination which will bring its own challenges when the first leg is played there in February.

All seven teams the Hoops could face have won their groups, some with more ease than others.

But I agree with Neil when he says a lot can change between now and the ties being played next year, in terms of form, fitness and personnel.

Purely from a logistical point of view, I'd be delighted if it's Malaga who come out of the hat because it would be a nice place to visit in March, and the fans would enjoy the experience.

The Spanish side are also one of the least experienced in Champions League terms.

But what they lack in pedigree in this competition, they more than make up for in the money spent on producing the side which has performed so well that they topped a group which contained AC Milan.

Manchester United would be a bad draw, because of the threat from Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, as would the German teams, especially Bayern Munich.

But I don't want to talk about who Celtic don't want in case I jinx things.

The homework will be done on whichever team Celtic have to face. What is already known is that playing in the knockout rounds is very different to playing in the group stage.

When Celtic opened up their Group G campaign with a home tie against Benfica, they were able to be cautious and feel their way into the competition.

In the end, that point was very important.

In a knockout situation, winning your home game – especially when it is played first – is vital.

So, Neil will want to have his team playing at their peak, and going into the game on the back of a strong series of results, especially at Celtic Park.

The winter break which has been reintroduced this year will be a huge benefit in achieving this.

The first half of the season has been very intensive and exhausting. Just look at the number of players who have been out injured as confirmation it has taken a huge toll.

The shutdown for a couple of weeks will afford everyone a staging post, then the opportunity to recharge batteries and allow niggles and knocks to clear up.

For now, let's just enjoy the fact Celtic are in the draw. It's the perfect Christmas present and I suspect Thursday is when it will finally hit home to the players what they have achieved.

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