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Wednesday, 24 October 2007

4950: Benfica v Celtic Preview: Will

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by : Daniel Law

Celtic will be looking for their first away win in the Champions League on Wednesday night against Benfica. Despite their impressive home form in the competition the Celts have now suffered 14 defeats and one draw away from Parkhead. However after their poor performance against Rangers on Saturday the odds seem against them finally ending this anomaly.

One piece of good news for Celtic fans is that inspirational captain Stephen McManus has joined the rest of the team for the trip. It looked certain the Scotland international would miss the tie due to the headknock he suffered against Rangers which left him unconscious following a collision with Rangers forward Daniel Cousin. He will now undergo a last minute fitness test to see if he can play. With Mark Wilson and Jean Perrier-Doumbe already out injured Gordon Strachan will be praying McManus is fit enough to start in Lisbon.

The Celtic support will be further encouraged by the fact that recent injury victims Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Paul Hartley also boarded the flight to Lisbon. Steven Pressley, another long-term injury absentee, and Bobo Balde also made the trip for the crucial group match.

In a bid to cure their usual bout of travel sickness, the Celts have decided to depart one day earlier than usual for Lisbon. Instead of departing on the day before the match as Celtic are accustomed to doing, Gordon Strachan decided to give his players an extra day in the Portuguese capital by departing on Monday. Whether this is clutching at straws or a masterstroke will remain to be seen but there is probably no harm in giving the players a more relaxed period prior to a major match.

It will be a big match for Gary Caldwell in particular. Last time he played at the Estadio da Luz he had a torrid time scoring an early own goal and then being at fault when Gomez doubled Benfica’s advantage.

However against Benfica Celtic may have a chance of escaping with at least a point. The Celts will line up against a side yet to win a point in Group D after defeat in Milan to AC and at home to Shakhtar Donetsk. Even domestically the club have struggled to get results. Last weekend’s win over Uniao de Leiria ended a run of five games without a win in all competitions. At the weekend in the first-leg of the Portuguese Carlsberg Cup quarter-finals Benfica needed a goal eleven minutes from time from substitute Freddy Adu to earn a 1-1 draw against Setubal.

If they wish to leave Portugal with a point or three then Celtic will have to find a way to neutralise the threat of veteran midfielder Rui Costa and Uruguayan Cristian Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been on sparkling form since he joined the club from Paris Saint Germain on a season-long loan. If they do manage to stop Benfica playing their usual passing game then the Celtic players may finally end their dismal Champions League record away from home.

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