Celtic manager Neil Lennon believes Champions League football is not out of reach for Scottish clubs.
With the Parkhead side having beaten Serie A side Lazio 2-1 on Thursday night in the second-tier Europa League, Lennon revealed that the result meant more to him than just improving Celtic’s chances of progressing.
He is excirted by the stockpiling of European coefficient points so far this season, with both Celtic and Rangers aiding the rise of Scotland up the Uefa rankings.
The nation is currently in 18th position with an elevation to 15th opening up the potential for two Champions League places for Scottish clubs further down the line.
More pertinently, however, it would also stave off the threat of a slide into the forthcoming third-tier European Conference League, a danger for countries who do not lie in the top 15 nations.
For now, though, each summer sees Scottish clubs facing an arduous qualification route as they attempt to force their way into the main part of the cntinental competitions.
Every positive result in European football aids not only Scotland’s coefficient but the nation’s reputationas well.
Lennon joked that an extra week in the sun would be welcome every July but there are many reasons why European success this season would allow Scottish clubs to breathe a little easier. Lennon said: “It would make a huge difference if we could get rid of that first qualifier, it would give me an extra week in Portugal.
“The four qualifiers are a marathon, and if you can take one away then great, but even three qualifiers is a big ask.
“We know how difficult it is, but we want to get the coefficient up.
“At the minute though, all I’m thinking about is trying to get through the group and then take it from there. If that bodes well for the coefficient then so be it,” added Lennon.
“It’s the gravitas for the club and the country, it’s important. I don’t believe that the Champions League is way beyond any Scottish club.
“In time, we will be there again and challenging, and hopefully breaking the ceiling of the last 16 again.
“I don’t believe for one minute that’s too far away for the Scottish clubs.
“Both teams are in the Europa League at the minute and performing very well. It is the competition we are in so we have to maximise what we have in it. We’ve done that before and we’re hoping we can do that again.
“In terms of the Champions League, I don’t believe that’s way beyond any of the Scottish clubs. I think that will come again.”
Celtic keeper Fraser Forster earned plaudits for his save to deny Lazio an equaliser with the last kick of the ball as he pushed away Danilo Cataldi’s volley but it was the goalkeeper’s earlier block from Marco Parolo to keep the score at 1-0 that had Lennon applauding.
“That was a brilliant save, because it would have been game over,” said Lennon. “The later one, it was such a great hit – but maybe he’s got more time to see it and get across. It was a brilliant save as well, of course. But, for me, the block from four or five yards out is immense. Absolutely immense.”
Now comes the challenge of Pittodrie as the focus returns to the battle for domestic dominance with Lennon eager that the manner of Thursday night’s doesn’t distract his players from the tests that awaits tomorrow.
“We’ve got to come down and recover as well as we can,” he said. “We have to learn from the Cluj-Livingston double-header. This is exactly the same. We have to get them back down to earth.”