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Celtic need to wise up to conquer Italians

MIKAEL LUSTIG believes Celtic need to be more "streetwise" against AC Milan in their opening Cham­pions League group game than they were against Juventus in the last 16 last season.

Michael Lustig believes Celtic have the players to trouble AC Milan
Michael Lustig believes Celtic have the players to trouble AC Milan

The Turin side's physical approach to marking at set plays was a feature of both legs of the teams' knock-out tie [Juventus won 5-0 on aggregate] and Lustig expects Milan to be similarly aggressive in the San Siro tomorrow night.

Celtic were frustrated at the match officials' reluctance to penalise the spoiling tactics of the Juventus defenders, believing they should have been awarded a number of penalties over the two legs, and Lustig hoped a zero tolerance approach would be taken by the referee - Wolfgang Stark of Germany - and his assistants on this occasion. Similarly, however, the Swede admitted that Celtic need to be better prepared to deal with the physical side of things.

"The Italian players know every trick in the book so it will probably be the same as last season," he said. "But we will know the way they play better than we did before we faced Juventus. In my opinion at set pieces we should have had at least two or three penalties last season. But it's up to the referee.

"Do we need to be more streetwise? Absolutely, if someone holds you, you need to be strong and push them away before the set-piece is taken. Against Juventus it was strange. It's not often you feel like someone is just holding you. I was looking at the referee but he was focusing on the ball. It's up to him to know if it's a penalty or not. Apart from the set pieces against Juve, I thought the referee was good. But we want some penalties if we are being fouled."

Celtic's success in the group phase last season has imbued them with confidence ahead of this year's campaign. Having beaten Spartak Moscow in the Russian capital and come within seconds of earning a draw against Barcelona in Camp Nou, Lustig believes they have nothing to fear heading to take on Milan on their own patch.

"I think we have a chance in the San Siro," he added. "Last year we did really well in the Nou Camp.

It's really important to try to score the first goal in European games away from home.

That gives you something to then defend your own goal.

We know we are the underdogs but the way we go and play against the big teams, we show respect for them but we don't show respect on the pitch."

Milan head into the game hampered by the loss of several key players through injury. New signing Kaka has been ruled out, as have Stephan El Shaarawy, Riccardo Montolivo, Ignazio Abate, Mattia De Sciglio, Matias Silvestre, Daniele Bonera and Giampaolo Pazzini, while Andrea Poli is a doubt. Celtic, though, will still need to deal with the mercurial figure of Mario Balotelli, with the former Manchester City forward likely to lead the Milan attack.

Lustig played against Balotelli for Sweden in the

2009 under-21 European Championship finals, a match that would serve as a preview of what was to come from the volatile Italian later in his career. Balotelli put his country in front with a stunning strike only to undo his good work by being sent off for aiming a kick at a Swedish player.

"We didn't see too much of Balotelli in the first minutes of the game but then [in the 23rd minute] he took a great touch and buried in the top corner

of our net," recalled Lustig.

"It was a really wonderful goal but then seven minutes before the break he took a kick out at our guy [Pontus Wernbloom] and he got a red card. It was obvious he was a world class player but when you see him now I think he is even more mature than he was back then."

Lustig, though, believes Celtic have match winners among their own ranks as well. "Among our attacking players, James Forrest is one that can take them on. Anthony Stokes has also been brilliant recently and played really well against Hearts last weekend, plus we have Puff [Kris Commons], Derk [Boerrigter] and one or two others. We won't just be relying on set plays, we want to create chances from open play as well. We're going there to look for some points."

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