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Dec 5, 2012

Lennon: UCL has replaced Old Firm buzz

Celtic boss Neil Lennon believes the Champions League has been a "great substitute'' for the atmosphere of derby clashes with Rangers since their city rivals dropped out of the Scottish Premier League.

• Messi: Celtic deserve to qualify
• Champions League permutations

Old Firm matches are always the most highly anticipated of the domestic season for Celtic and their fans, but the absence of those four games left a notable void.

However, a thrilling Champions League campaign has seen the Hoops move to the brink of qualifying for the knockout stages for the first time since 2007-08.

A victory over Spartak Moscow in the last group game on Wednesday would likely put Celtic through, as rivals Benfica face a tricky trip to Barcelona, and Lennon says he has relished the challenge of this season's Champions League, particularly in the face of a lack of domestic derbies.

When asked about life without Rangers, Lennon said: "There is no doubt it has been difficult at times. There has been an economic problem with not having the four Old Firm games this season, a lot of revenue and interest has been taken away.

"Getting through to the Champions League has been a sort of great substitute, certainly for the players and supporters, they have really enjoyed the campaign so far.

"As regards next year, it will be the exact same remit. I think we might have three qualifiers to get through so it will make qualifying even more difficult.

"But that is just the reality of where we are so we have to accept that and make the best of what we have and that is exactly what Celtic are trying to do.''

Spartak, with three points from five games, have nothing but pride to play for but caretaker coach Valery Karpin insists his side will not be taking the game lightly.

"No, we will take this as a serious game and there will be no place for experiments, except with maybe two or three players," he said. "We have a lot of things to prove and it us up to the players to prove they are up to the challenge tomorrow.''

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