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Bitton: Celtic now want to build on ‘great’ Europa League group stage

Nir Bitton is relaxed about Monday’s Europa League last-32 draw as he claims Celtic have already surpassed outside expectations by reaching the knockout stages.

The Hoops had wrapped up top spot in Group E before Thursday’s trip to Cluj in their final fixture.

A makeshift side fielded by Neil Lennon suffered their first loss of the section and the  2-0 defeat by the Romanian side meant both clubs qualified at the expense of Serie A outfit Lazio and Rennes of France.

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Ahead of Sunday’s visit of Hibernian in the Ladbrokes Premiership, where Celtic will look to keep their place at the top of the table ahead of Rangers whom they lead by two points, Bitton summed up the group campaign while looking forward to Monday where Celtic will be seeded at the draw in Nyon.

“It has been a very good campaign for us,” said the Israel international.

“The main target for us at the beginning was to qualify.

“If you asked everyone else outside the club who would be the two teams to qualify they would have said Lazio and Rennes. Both of them are out.

“For us the most important thing was to win all the home games. I’m happy we did it and yes, we had a great campaign but we want to keep it going.

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“It is difficult to say how far we could go. All the team who have qualified for the next round are good teams.

“Teams have come down from the Champions League and qualified from the Europa League so it is going to be tough but again we will compete and hopefully go as far as we can.”

Bitton, signed from home town club Ashdod in 2013, was one of nine changes made by Lennon for the match in Romania.

He believes the Northern Irishman’s plan to rest some players to give some others much-needed minutes on the pitch can only be beneficial.

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He said: “It is good to get some game time. Most of the guys who played hadn’t played for while.

“It was good for us to get some game time, to get our legs running and so it was a good game for us.

“It is also good for the players who have played a lot lately to get a rest. For us, the main target was to show that we were not there to play nice and safe, we were there to win.

“We conceded two sloppy goals but again, the most important thing was to get some game time for us and I am happy that we did it.”