Skip to main content

Nir Bitton explains why he risked Neil Lennon’s wrath to face Scotland

Celtic v KR Reykjavik – UEFA Champions League – Qualifying – First Round – Celtic Park
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

Nir Bitton revealed his burning desire to help Israel to a major finals explained why he was able to confound Neil Lennon and play against Scotland.

The 28-year-old defender suffered an ankle injury in Celtic’s Europa League win over Sarajevo last week and missed the Premiership victory at St Johnstone on Sunday.

After Israel coach Willi Ruttensteiner included Bitton in his squad for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final at Hampden Park on Thursday night and Nations League games against Czech Republic and Slovakia, Celtic boss Lennon claimed it would be “impossible” for the centre-back to be fit in time.

But Bitton played 120 minutes against Scotland before scoring in the penalty shoot-out, although Steve Clarke’s side won 5-3 to set up a final away to Serbia next month, leaving Israel looking back to 1970 since they qualified for a major finals.

Scotland v Israel – UEFA Euro 2020 – Play-Offs – Semi Final – Hampden Park

Nir Bitton was desperate to regain fitness and play for Israel against Scotland (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Bitton said: “Celtic is the club who pay my salary but as a person, as a professional athlete, I couldn’t give up on this game.

“These are the games you dream of playing when you are six years old.

“Even the day after the injury I told the medical staff at Celtic that I wanted to give myself a chance. I twisted my ankle very badly away in Bosnia and I didn’t believe I could make it.

“On the way back home on Friday I was on crutches, I was in a wheelchair and I couldn’t even walk on the foot.

“But I wasn’t going to rule myself out of the game until I knew that I couldn’t play.

“I never give up, I always try to push myself to the limit but to be honest the medical staff here did an unbelievable job, they treated me like their child with treatment three times a day.

“I played this game only because of them and I understand the frustration of Celtic. I was glad I made it but it is a bit frustrating now.”

Heart of Midlothian v Celtic – Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership – Ibrox Stadium

Nir Bitton confounded Celtic bosss Neil Lennon to be fit to face Scotland (Jane Barlow/PA)

Asked about speaking to Lennon, Bitton, who joined Celtic from Ashdod in 2013, jokingly replied: “I blocked his number.”

He added: “I didn’t speak to him. It was between the national team and Celtic.

“But for my side, I always told Celtic that I was going to give it a chance and obviously if I didn’t feel good I wouldn’t play.

“But on Tuesday I felt OK at training, on Wednesday I felt better and on Thursday morning I told the gaffer that I wanted to play.

“With all the adrenaline around the game and around the occasion you don’t feel anything – I feel it now though.”

Bitton is not sure if he will be asked to play in Israel’s Nations League games against Czech Republic and Slovakia before returning to Glasgow for the first Old Firm game of the year at Celtic Park on October 17.

Rangers v Celtic – Betfred Scottish Cup – Final – Hampden Park

Celtic’s Nir Bitton (right) has Rangers to look forward to after international break (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Asked if he would be OK for the Rangers game, Bitton smiled and said: “I am in big trouble if I’m not.

“Obviously Rangers is a big game but I’m not thinking about Rangers right now.

“I don’t know if I will travel with the team for the next two games, it is a decision to be made by the coach and the medical staff.

“I gave everything to take part in this game, this is a game that really was my target.

“I didn’t really think about the Czech Republic or Slovakia, I only thought about Scotland. So I don’t know what is going to happen, we will see.”