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Lennon revels in Hoops progress
Published : 06 Dec 2012 06:47:05Rss feed
Neil Lennon believes he got the last laugh on his doubters after Kris Commons' dramatic late penalty gave Celtic a 2-1 victory over Spartak Moscow at Parkhead to secure a place in the last-16 of the Champions League.
Gary Hooper opened the scoring for the home side, who had to better Benfica's result in Barcelona, in the 21st minute but that was cancelled out by Ari before the break. Then, after defender Marek Suchy conceded a penalty kick in the 80th minute for a barge on Georgios Samaras, up stepped Commons to slam the ball in off the bar.
Kim Kallstrom was dismissed late on for a poor challenge on Commons, who was stretchered off, but a goalless draw at the Nou Camp put the Hoops through after having to negate two qualifying rounds and a tough group stage. Lennon said: "It means the world to me as a young manager in my first year in the Champions League to qualify with 10 points."
He continued: "I am very proud of the players, they have performed a miracle. People laughed at me when I said at the start that my target was to qualify. No one gave us a prayer going into this group but we have qualified and deservedly so. I think you could see the players progressing last year.
"We have some really talented players who I felt could play at European level. I didn't want them just to be remembered for beating Barcelona but we have beaten Barcelona and qualified for the last 16 and that is a fantastic feather to have in your cap."
Celtic could face Manchester United, Malaga, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke or PSG in the knockout stages. The former Hoops skipper joked: "I would take Malaga - it would be nice this time of the year over there".
He then said: "Seriously, it is going to be really tough, against the top teams in the groups. You just don't know what shape teams are going to be in two or three months' time. But we are there, we are going to enjoy it and we want to progress as far as we can in the competition. Who knows where it can take you?"
Spartak caretaker coach Valery Karpin "didn't want to talk about the referee" with regards Celtic's penalty, however, he was mostly magnanimous in defeat. He said: "I would like to congratulate Celtic, they deserved it because they have had a very good Champions League campaign.
"The referee blew his whistle for a penalty so it was a penalty. The first half was the probably the best we have played in a long time, so it is disappointing to lose matches when you play well.
"In the second half the three midfielders who were supporting the striker were not so influential."