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Lennon hails Scots' Euro credentials
Published : 05 Aug 2011 17:17:00
Celtic boss Neil Lennon does not believe Scotland is now "just a Europa League country" after their clubs' recent Champions League struggles. The three remaining Scottish sides in Europe were in Friday's draw for the continent's second-tier competition, with Celtic paired against Swiss side Sion. After crashing out of their Champions League qualifier to Sweden's Malmo in midweek, Rangers were drawn against NK Maribor of Slovenia while Hearts take on Tottenham. Celtic failed to get past the Champions League qualifiers last season but the Hoops boss is not reading too much into that one-off failure. "Rangers got knocked out during the week obviously but in the last decade both the Old Firm clubs have made European finals and both clubs have made the last 16 of the Champions League so I don't accept that we are just a Europa League country," said Lennon. "I wouldn't look too far into that (recent difficulties in Champions League). These things can come in cycles. "No one could have envisaged the decade that we had, going into that decade. "Maybe Rangers were predominately stronger than us for European games with the European-quality players that they had but certainly after Martin (O'Neill) came in, that all turned round for us. "So that was a transitional period, and from our side of the fence we are hoping that we can make inroads into Europe again and I'm sure Ally (McCoist) will be exactly the same." Asked about the standard of the Europa League, Lennon replied: "Good. Hearts have drawn Spurs and there is not many better teams in England than Tottenham. "And as the competition progresses, the quality of teams get better and better. "From where we are at the minute, it will be a good test for us. "And it is very important for us to get through and we will be doing as much preparation on Sion as we can. "They are a good team, they have made a good start to the season, winning two out of three and as with all Swiss teams, they will be very fit, very athletic and technically very good. "By the time we play them they might have six or seven games under their belt, hopefully we will have three or four by then. But it is a tough draw, there is no doubt about that. "We would like to be in the Europa League group stages come September, October, November time. "I think it would be good for the players, the club and myself and the backroom staff." Celtic were also knocked out of the Europa League at the qualifying stage last season but Lennon is adamant that his side will be better prepared for the forthcoming European campaign. "I hope we have all learned from that," said the former Parkhead skipper. "There are no guarantees, obviously, but I think we are better equipped this time than we were this time last year. "We have been together for a while, the players know each other a lot better, and we have a fair idea of what our best team is." Lennon confirmed he has expressed an interest in Polish goalkeeper Grzegorz Sandomierski and is hoping to make further additions to his squad before Monday's European deadline. However, he revealed that his highly-publicised and protracted bid to bring Manchester City striker Craig Bellamy back to Parkhead has stalled. "I hope to have someone in before the deadline but I can't say yes or no," he added. "I am working very hard in the background to get players in. "It's all gone quiet (on Bellamy). You would be interested in a player of Craig's quality but we have nothing more to add to that at the minute. "I haven't spoken to him for a fortnight now but we will do that through his representatives." Scott Brown is suspended for Sunday's SPL clash with Aberdeen at Pittodrie but Lennon revealed he is close to agreeing a new deal with his skipper. He said: "We want him here and he wants to stay. I think we are pretty close and pretty soon we will hopefully have a result on that."