Before a ball was even kicked in pre-season, Celtic manager Neil Lennon had made the club’s European campaign his number one priority and when he gathered the players together for that first session of the summer, he would have been dreaming of the scenario he finds himself in on Wednesday night.
Celtic’s European destiny might not exactly be in their own hands, but the situation is as good as Lennon could have realistically hoped for going into the final group match and qualification to the knock out stages is within their grasp.
From a position of having to get through two qualifying rounds to even make the group stages, a glory night beckons in Glasgow. Level on seven points with Benfica but lying in third place thanks to an inferior head-to-head record, Celtic need to better the Portuguese giants’ result in order to progress to the last 16.
Normally, that would be more cause for concern, but in this case, Celtic have a great chance. While Benfica are in the Camp Nou to face Barcelona, Lennon’s men are at home to Spartak Moscow, the team propping up the rest of the section, and you would say that they have the edge in the two-horse race.
If you wanted a favour from any side in world football it would be Barcelona, even if the Catalans are already qualified, and Celtic have to be confident of seeing off a Moscow side that they defeated 3-2 in their own back yard in September and who are enduring a miserable season.
The odds compilers at bwin are confident, too, making Celtic 39/50 favourites, the draw at 13/5 and the away side 333/100 outsiders, and I can’t see anything other than a home win on Wednesday.
Celtic could actually draw and go through should Barca do what they normally do and win at home, but I think they can take maximum points in this one with a degree of comfort.
Quite simply, Spartak are in complete disarray. After a fine year last season in which they pipped CSKA for the final Champions League place in the Russian Premier League, this season has seen the club lurch from one disaster to another.
Sporting director Valery Karpin, who was in charge of first-team affairs last season, replaced himself with former Valencia coach Unai Emery in the summer but desperate performances, even worse results and conflict within the squad saw Emery sacked and replaced by a reluctant Karpin last week.
However, Karpin’s first match back in charge was a 4-2 defeat at home to Zenit that has left Spartak in eighth place in the Russian top flight and staring down the barrel of one of the worst seasons in their recent history.
And against this backdrop, you would fancy them to wilt at the first sign of adversity and backed by a huge vociferous support, I think Celtic can test that theory to the maximum by grabbing an early advantage.
With this in mind, I like the 33/20 that Lennon’s side are winning at half-time and then at full-time, which would offer winnings of £53 for anyone registering with bwin and successfully backing this option with their free £20 bet.
The Bhoys might be coming in the game on the back of a poor result at the weekend, when they could only manage a 1-1 draw with Second Division side Arbroath in the Scottish Cup, but I’m not taking any notice of that.
As I’ve said, a good Champions League campaign and all the money that brings has been Lennon’s main aim this year without Rangers to tackle in the SPL and that has shown in some of Celtic’s domestic results: there have been some shockers before and after their midweek European engagements.
But in Europe they have been totally switched on and have played with real astuteness both home and away, already coming through some high-pressure matches in the competition impressively.
And if Celtic were to take the lead, Spartak are likely to fold like a pack of cards with the situation they are in, which makes that 33/20 a fine bet in my eyes. And when Barca do Celtic a favour, it will be a famous night in Glasgow.