Messi backs Celtic to qualify for last 16

Celtic's bid to make the last 16 of the Champions League has been backed by Lionel Messi who believes the Scottish club's fans deserve to see their side progress.

Those at Celtic Park for Wednesday's decider against eliminated Spartak Moscow will be keeping close tabs on the other final Group G match in Spain to see if Barcelona can dent Portuguese side Benfica's hopes of progression and deliver Celtic an early Christmas gift.

With Barcelona guaranteed first place in the group, the race for second reaches its climax with both Celtic and Benfica level on seven points.

Benfica hold the better head-to-head record against Celtic after claiming a 2-1 victory in their last game against the Scottish champions who must better Benfica's result at the Nou Camp to have any chance of qualifying for the last 16 for the first time since their 2007/08 European campaign.

Celtic can take solace from the fact world football's most prolific goal scorer is in red-hot form after moving to within one goal of Gerd Muller's milestone haul of 85 for club and country in one year.

Both Messi and Celtic will be hoping he moves swiftly on the record set by the German in 1972 and in the process can eliminate Benfica with a sparkling display that would add another accolade to the 25-year-old's career.

"We have not always been supportive of the way that Celtic try and play football," Messi was quoted by Scottish newspaper The Daily Record as saying.

"However, their fans deserve the knockout stages of the Champions League as I think the competition would be a quieter place without them."

HOME WOES

Celtic, who defeated Spartak 3-2 in Moscow courtesy of Georgios Samarass' stoppage-time winner, will be looking to improve poor home form after lowly second division side Arbroath forced a Scottish Cup fourth-round replay on Saturday.

Despite making nine changes to freshen his side for Wednesday's match, manager Neil Lennon felt his players were wasteful.

"[We are] missing too many easy chances at home for my liking," Lennon said. "It will be no reflection on Wednesday whatsoever. Players will be fully focused and we will be hoping for a different scoreline."

Lennon gave a strong indication that Emilio Izaguirre and Scott Brown could be in contention for starting berths after both played at the weekend and in the first meeting against Spartak back in October.

The Moscow side's visit will also see former Celtic winger Aiden McGeady return to Celtic Park for the first time since he departed the club in 2010. The Irishman scored 37 goals in a six year spell in the Hoops and remains a strong figure in the mind of supporters.


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