Commons: Bring on United
Kris Commons believes Celtic are a match for anyone in the last 16 of the Champions League but would prefer a tie against boyhood heroes Manchester United.
The Hoops midfielder slammed in a dramatic late penalty in the Group G decider against Spartak Moscow at Parkhead last night to seal the 2-1 win and a place in the knockout stages of the competition along with section winners Barcelona.
Neil Lennon’s men could face United, Malaga, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke or Paris St Germain when the draw is made on December 20.
Celtic beat Barcelona 2-1 at Parkhead on their way to reaching 10 points and it is that victory which Commons holds up as evidence of the Scottish champions’ confidence.
However, the Mansfield-born Scotland international, who played for Stoke, Derby and Nottingham Forest before his move to Celtic in 2011, would like another trip to Old Trafford.
“I think we can beat anyone on our day, we have proved that, not only in the SPL but in Europe, we can beat top, top sides,” he said.
“With our fans and the way we set out to win games, I don’t think anyone will fancy coming to play us.
“So it’s going to be a tough draw for whoever it is.
“There are a few really tough sides but being a boy from down south, I would like to play Man United.
“I’ve played them before a couple of times but I was a Man United fan as a kid so for me, to get the chance to play against that club and play at that stadium again would be a dream come true again.”
The 29-year-old was speaking at Lennoxtown as he nursed a dead leg which saw him taken off on a stretcher five minutes from time following a challenge from Kim Kallstrom which earned the Spartak midfielder a second yellow card.
Reflecting back on the campaign, he claimed Celtic proved “all the doubters wrong” with their achievement.
He said: “I remember doing an interview before the first game against Benfica and I was asked what the target was and I said that we wanted to qualify out of the group.
“There were a few smiles and sniggers.
“We were quietly confident that we could give anyone a game on our day, we had a good squad who were trying to succeed and I feel we have proved a lot of people wrong.
“People who have not cost a great deal of money have come into the squad and turned out man of the match performances at home and away from home in Europe.
“We have turned boys into men and we have young players who are hungry for the game.”
However, Commons admitted he was not aware of the significance of his penalty.
The Scottish champions went into the match knowing they would qualify for the knockout stages only if they got a better result against Spartak, consigned to the bottom of the table, than Benfica got in the Nou Camp.
In the 81st minute with the game tied at 1-1 after Gary Hooper’s opener had been cancelled out by Ari, a roar swept around the stadium which suggested that Barca had scored.
However, it was an erroneous call, the game in the Nou Camp finished goalless and had Commons not scored with the spot-kick that Lennon could not bring himself to watch, then it would have been Benfica and not Celtic who would have gone through.
Commons said: “I thought Barcelona were winning anyway so I just thought, ’I will smash this in, we have done our part but Benfica are losing anyway’.
“We got the feeling from the crowd that Barcelona had scored.
“We didn’t really feel that we needed to press and force the issue to get a goal.
“I could then sense the fans were anxious and with the manager willing us to get a goal and also bringing on Lassad.
“I would have thought someone from the sideline would have said, ’listen, we need a goal because at this point in time we are going out’.
“So taking the penalty I had no idea what the consequence was – or I would have probably given it to Lassad.
“He was a big goalkeeper and the only worry was that his feet were still going to be in the middle as he dived.
“I wanted to go as high as possible without ballooning it over the bar and lucky enough for me it hit the underside of the bar and went in after the bounce and then into the roof of the net.
“My heart sank for a millisecond and then I was able to celebrate.”