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Aug 29, 2013

Lionel Messi on 'difficult' UCL test

Lionel Messi is looking forward to a "difficult" test following Barcelona being drawn alongside AC Milan, Ajax and Celtic in the Champions League.

Speaking after missing out on UEFA’s Best Player in Europe award to Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, Messi also recognised that it will be a difficult group for Barca to progress from.

"This season's group will not be easy, but we are looking forward to some good games," he said. "You don't get any easy groups, but this is a nice one. We played Milan and Celtic last season, and it is our first time against Ajax. It will be a difficult group."

Asked whether they can do better this season than last year, when crashing out embarrassingly 0-7 on aggregate in semi-finals to Bayern Munich, the Argentine sounded confident.

"Bayern were superb last season and better than Barcelona," Messi said. “But hopefully this season we can do better. When you play for a club like Barcelona, the only option is to try and win it all."

Meanwhile, Milan are looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Barcelona once again.

The Blaugrana have knocked the Rossoneri out of Europe in each of the last two seasons, although both will now be hoping to reach the last 16 together.

“Before the draw was made, we were joking about the fact we could have met Barcelona again, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Milan’s organising director Umberto Gandini told Sky Italia.

“It’s the fourth time in three years. It’s not bad, though. The fans at the San Siro can see once again this great side and their latest arrival, Neymar. It’s a beautiful group. Ajax and Celtic are sides who must not be under-estimated.”

Elsewhere, Celtic manager Neil Lennon admitted his side were handed the most daunting task imaginable as they were drawn alongside Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax in Champions League Group H, but he has urged his players and the club’s supporters to embrace the challenge.

The Scottish champions defied the odds last season as they beat Barcelona en-route to the to the knock-out phase of the competition and while Lennon accepts a repeat seems improbable now, he is clearly delighted to be back in what he calls ‘the big show’ once again.

“It’s the best and the worst draw we could have got,” he told Sky Sports. “In terms of glamour it doesn’t come much better that Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan. In terms of football, it is probably the most difficult group we could have got.

“There is a lot of excitement around this. After doing the hard work to qualify, we have to really go an enjoy this now. For our supporters and the players, this draw means is three great footballing areas to visit, playing three clubs with great pedigrees in this competition.

“We have three great games to look forward to at Celtic Park, but from a football point of view, it is going to be very hard for us.”

Lennon hopes the prospect of high profile Champions League ties will help his attract players to Celtic in the final days of the transfer window, after conceding he has endured a tough summer trying to entice fresh talent to come to what is perceived to be a struggling Scottish league.

“The Scottish game is much maligned and while many clubs up here are struggling financially, this means everything for us,” he added. “The club is going to be pretty stable for the next four or five years on the back of this and now we have to try and take the club on to the next level.

“Hopefully now it helps us bring players in over the next few days because we need that. We lost three quality players this summer in Victor Wanyama, Kelvin Wilson and Gary Hooper and we have yet to replace them. We have tried to do that, but it has been a difficult period. In terms of attracting the quality of player we are looking for, it’s not been easy.

“Amid all that, we have had to prepare the team for really difficult Champions League qualifiers and they are always really sticky games.

“Thankfully we overcame that and thankfully we are in the Champions League again and it just adds to the reputation of the club. People will see the game last night and will see how exciting Celtic Park can be on a night like that. It can only help us.

“For the players we have brought in, for the players we are trying to bring in and for my development as a manager, being in the Champions League is everything. It gives us a real solid platform to build on.”

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