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Europa League: Lennon tells Celtic to grasp second chance

By Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon has urged his Celtic players to make the most of their Europa League reprieve when they take on Atletico Madrid in the Vicente Calderon stadium tonight.

The Hoops lost 3-1 on aggregate in their play-off tie against Sion but were reinstated when Uefa ruled that the Swiss club had used five ineligible players over the two games.

The Parkhead side replaced Sion in a group which also includes Italian side Udinese and French outfit Rennes, and the Celtic boss is looking for his side — who will be without Scott Brown and Anthony Stokes through injury — to grasp this opportunity.

“It means a lot to myself, the backroom staff, and the players to be in this competition and I think it means a lot to the supporters as well,” said Lennon.

“If you look at the teams that are in the group, it is a fantastic group and all we are looking for from the players is to do themselves justice.

“We believe we have a very talented group of players who can develop into a very good team if we can keep them all together and this will be part of their development.

“But I don't want them to see it as a learning curve, I want them to play strong and try to get a positive result and go forward from there.”

He added: “Qualifying would be nice, but it is a top-quality group and I'm not looking that far ahead.

“Tomorrow will be a good marker for us. Atletico will probably be favourites for the group.

“But I'm hoping I can qualify and if we can maintain our home form that we have shown over the years then we have a very good chance.

“Obviously our away form has to improve and if we can pick up some points away from home, who knows?”

Atletico drew and lost their first two Primera Division games against Osasuna and Valencia respectively but the former Northern Ireland added: “They have real quality and strength in depth. We watched them on three occasions, twice in La Liga and they were unfortunate not to get something against Valencia.

“They won this competition not to long ago so their pedigree is up there with any of the clubs in Europe.”

Elsewhere, Dutchman Martin Jol faces opposition from his homeland as Fulham entertain FC Twente, while Birmingham host Braga from Portugal. Stoke travel to Dynamo Kiev and Spurs — who are in Shamrock Rovers’ group — visit Greek outfit PAOK Salonika.

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