RONNY Deila believes he will have delivered the greatest achievement of his managerial career if Celtic secure qualification for the Champions League group stage tonight.
The Norwegian spoke with undisguised excitement as he described the play-off second leg against Maribor at Parkhead as the biggest night of Celtic's season.
The 1-1 draw secured against the Slovenian champions away from home six nights ago means Celtic are favourites to reach the group stage for the third consecutive season. The club received just less than £14m from Uefa for being in the Champions League last season and almost £19m the season before, when they reached the last 16.
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"It is Christmas Day and Happy New Year at the same time, if we can do it," said the 38-year-old.
"It would be fantastic. It is my dream to do it: to coach a team in the biggest tournament in football, at the highest level. I get goosebumps when I think of it. It's fantastic. I'm really looking forward to it.
"This is the most important night of this season. The biggest. I can't wait. It's been a long 10 weeks of hard work, ups and downs, and now we're here at the final moment, the moment of decision. We have to go out and attack the game. If we go through, we will have shown that we belong in the Champions League because we've been good enough to qualify. That is the main thing."
At his pre-match media briefing at Lennoxtown yesterday, Deila smiled when it was put to him that players want to go to arenas like Camp Nou and the Bernabeu for Champions League football. Where did he want to go? "First, Celtic Park. I think that's a good start. At Celtic Park, a full stadium, that's the main thing.
"If things go the way we want then we can talk about dreams after that. It will be my first time experiencing the atmosphere of a big European night at Celtic Park as manager."
Scott Brown, Aleksandar Tonev, James Forrest and Adam Matthews are all out injured for Celtic but Craig Gordon, Mikael Lustig, Jason Denayer, Virgil van Dijk, Stefan Johansen, Callum McGregor, Kris Commons, Jo Inge Berget and Anthony Stokes could all return to the starting XI after being rested or used as substitutes in the weekend defeat to Caledonian Thistle.
The Serbian striker Stefan Scepovic could be a Celtic player within 24 hours after a fee of around £2m was agreed with Sporting Gijon. The 24-year-old will complete a move once personal terms are agreed, although the registration deadline has passed and he can play no part tonight.
Meanwhile, van Dijk could become a transfer target for Sevilla after they agreed to sell their central defender, Federico Fazio, to Tottenham for around £9m. If they are priced out of a move for Juventus defender Angelo Ogbonna, who is rated at £13m, they may come for van Dijk. The transfer window closes on Monday.
Deila was pleased for Gordon and McGregor yesterday as the pair were named in Scotland manager Gordon Strachan's squad for the opening Euro 2016 qualifier against Germany on September 7. Eyebrows have been raised over both selections given how little football Gordon has played after serious injury, and how few games McGregor has played having made his Celtic debut only last month.
Deila was unsurprised, though. "Craig has proved before that he is a fantastic goalkeeper but now he's getting there, he's getting better and better every day. Callum has been fantastic for us so far. He is a very calm boy. When you see him on the ball it's like he's in his own world and that's why I think he has improved so much. Can he play against Germany? I don't think you will find so many other boys that are better than him."
The experienced Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai will be in charge of tonight's match. The 38-year-old officiated at the 2011 Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United at Wembley and also the semi-finals of the tournament in both 2012 and 2013.
Kassai, who officiated at Celtic's Champions League ties against Villarreal in 2008 and Benfica in 2012, is no stranger to controversy, having been sent home from Euro 2012 after failing to spot that a shot from Ukraine's Marko Devic had crossed the line before John Terry's clearance in a 1-0 victory for England.