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Celtic boss Neil Lennon believes his men have Euro credentials

© SNSCeltic's Leigh Griffiths celebrates his goal in the 7-0 demolition of St Johnstone
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths celebrates his goal in the 7-0 demolition of St Johnstone

Neil Lennon is backing his streetwise stars to help Celtic move a step closer to the lucrative group stages of the Champions League.

The Hoops will be in action in the first leg of the 3rd Qualifying Round when they tackle Cluj in Romania on Wednesday.

Their opposition represent a significant step up in quality from Nomme Kalju, the Estonians they hammered 7-0 on aggregate in the last round.

Nevertheless, the Irishman is confident the European experience of players like Scott Brown, Callum McGregor and James Forrest will help ensure the Scottish champions go into the home leg a week later well placed to progress.

“We have had Cluj watched,”said Lennon. “So we know exactly what we are up against. They are big, strong, physical and experienced.

“I don’t know how hostile or intimidating the stadium will be, but I know they will be physical and direct and we will need to defend well.

“They get the ball in early, and they have good technicians. I don’t think they are blessed with great flair, but they are really functional and effective.

“They don’t give away much. They are shrewd and counter-attacked quite well in Israel against Maccabi Tel Aviv, where it was quite tense and cagey.

“I expect this one will be no different, really.

Lennon said: “It is going to be tough, particularly the first game, but it is good we are away first because it will give us a good look at them.

“Hopefully we can score over there. I think we are capable of scoring, and we have proved it in the previous two games. That would be priceless.

“We have got a very experienced squad. They have done it twice under Brendan Rodgers and in the four games this season, I have seen that experience.

“There is a good core there, particularly the Scottish guys. They know how to get it done. It doesn’t make winning any easier, but it does help.

“Handling the pressures, managing the bad moments, they have looked really calm. I have been really impressed with the way they have played.

“We have strength, particularly through the spine of the team. There are a couple of mavericks in there, younger ones who will hopefully add to what we already have.

“In terms of individuals, Callum McGregor is just your all-round top professional, while Scott Brown is a great sidekick.

“Jozo Simunovic has got good experience, and Kris Ajer has the international experience, so it is not like they are a group of rookies going into it.

“It is a step up, but I think we are ready for it.”

n PETRESCU CALLS ON CELTIC TO HELP HIM OUT – See Page 14