CHAMPIONS League football may well have eluded Celtic once again this season, but their Europa League match against Lazio this evening feels far from a step down. The first meeting with the Italian giants, one of the great clubs in the continental game, in their history is as glamorous and enticing as any they have faced in recent times. Getting a result, too, will prove every bit as demanding.

Neil Lennon, who has been involved in some memorable tussles with Serie A rivals both as a player and a manager over the years, is certainly looking forward to the match against Simeone Inzaghi’s team as eagerly as any of the 60,000 or so supporters who will cram into Parkhead before kick-off tonight.

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“With the name and the fact the game is a sell-out it has the ingredients of a really exciting European night,” he said. “You have been able to feel the anticipation building.”

Celtic have started their Group E campaign in encouraging fashion with a 1-1 draw against Rennes in France last month and a 2-0 triumph over Cluj in Glasgow three weeks ago and will go into their third fixture a point clear at the top of their section and with ambitions of progressing to the knockout rounds for the third straight season.

Lennon appreciates this game against Lazio will - regardless of whether Ciro Immobile, the Italy striker who is the leading scorer in his domestic league after netting nine times in 10 appearances, or not - be a considerable step up on their previous outings.

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He has, though, confidence that his players, who warmed up for this test with a 6-0 thrashing of Ross County in the Ladbrokes Premiership on Saturday, can continue their impressive run of form and take a significant stride towards a place in the last 32. He has urged his men to savour the occasion and show they are every bit as good, if not better, than their famous opponents.

“We got a great point in Rennes and a good win against Cluj, but this is a real test for us now and one the players are relishing,” he said. “They should really want to get their sleeves rolled up now and really get into this.

“This is what some of them are here for, to taste these nights. There is no better arena. The fans are craving European football and hopefully the players can connect with them and go and put on a performance.”

Lennon added: “I think we have got to try and win our home games. I think we are a great test for Lazio as well. The game is there for us. It will be exciting. I think we have to test them.

“People probably see Lazio as firm favourites and I get that. But we can beat anybody at home. If the players can replicate the last few performances at home, get the crowd going, get the juices going and get the tempo up, then we have a chance.”

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Suggestions that Inzaghi may not field Immobile are of little concern to Lennon. Nor does he read too much into the visitors’ indifferent results this term. He knows from his personal experiences against Italian sides that whoever takes to the field for Lazio will be a quality player.

“I think of the Juventus team we played here five or six years ago (in the last 16 of the Champions League in 2013),” he said. “They were outstanding from front to back. I wouldn’t say Lazio are at that level currently, but they have still got some world-class players.

“In Immobile they have the best striker in the league at the minute, certainly in Serie A currently. He is very deceptive. You wouldn’t say he is lightning quick, but he is really sharp. He moves really quickly with the ball.”

Lennon anticipates his new-look back line, Hatem Elhamed, Christopher Jullien, Kristoffer Ajer and Boli Bolingoli, has a torrid 90 minutes ahead of them due to how Lazio will line up.

“They play with two strikers,” he said. “They play quite close together as well so the understanding is very good. It is not something our back four will have come up against before – two bona fide centre forwards. We have obviously analysed that.

“He (Immobile) may or may not play. But they have got (Felipe) Caicedo as well who is an ex-Man City and Levante player. No matter who plays they will be good because they have got good strength in depth as well. (Sergej) Milinkovic-Savic is a top European player. They can come at you from different areas attacking wise. But I have seen plenty in ourselves to see we can cause them problems as well.”

Lennon envisages no difficulties going from playing County to taking on Lazio in the space of just five days. In fact, he is hoping that rout of the promoted Highland club will have boosted his charges’ confidence.

“If we find the same level we have a good chance of winning,” he said. “The atmosphere and the prestige of the game against Lazio all take care of themselves in terms of your mindset and motivation. It will lift the players. They should make the most of it.”