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Neil Lennon’s Sporting Braga verdict

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Neil Lennon has moved quickly to play down claims that Celtic got a lucky draw when they were paired with Sporting Braga in the third qualifying round for the Champions League.

The draw could have been tougher involving travel to Zenit St Petersburg or Dynamo Kiev but the runners up in the Portuguese League are never going to be anything less than formidable opponents.

Celtic have got plenty of recent experience of Portuguese opposition but there are likely to be very few survivors of the Benfica clashes of three years ago on show when Celtic travel to northern Portugal.

As luck would have it the final game of the club’s four match North American tour is against Sporting Lisbon which should give the current squad a fair idea of what to expect from Braga.

Celtic will get upto speed with Braga over the next ten days but Lennon already has a good idea of what he can expect in his first competitive games as permanent manager.

He said: “ Braga had a brilliant season last year. It was probably their best in years when they finished second.

“I’ve been an admirer of their style of play for the last few years. They’re a very attack-minded team and on a couple of occasions in the past four or five seasons they’ve done well in the Europa League.

“They have some very gifted players in their team and play with three up front and like to push their full backs on.

“It’s a tough draw but I think we are capable over the two games of matching them.

“With the first leg of the tie being away from home, it’s important we bring something back to Celtic Park to have a go at them.

“We see it as a very difficult draw but I’m sure Braga will see it that way as well.

“The most important thing is that we keep our foot in the door in the first game before bringing them home and having a right good go.”

Braga seem to have had a very ‘Celtic-like’ close season with a new rookie manager appointed in Fernando Couto and their top player, goalkeeper Eduardo, moving on to Serie A to join Genoa.

Finishing clear of Porto and Sporting is a fantastic achievement for any Portuguese side with Braga pushing Benfica to the final day of the season in the championship race.

Like most Portuguese sides they rely heavily on Brazilian players and have recruited nine new faces since the end of last season.

UEFA have still to decide on the dates of the ties which are scheduled for July 27/28 and August 3/4.

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