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Lawwell pleads the case for Ambrose's urgent return

CELTIC are in talks with the Nigeria Football Federation in an attempt to make sure Efe Ambrose is back in time for Tuesday's Champions League last-16 tie against Juventus.

Forster prepares for his return today. Picture: James Galloway
Forster prepares for his return today. Picture: James Galloway

Ambrose will play for Nigeria in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations which kicks off in Johannesburg at 6pm tomorrow UK time, 50 hours before the match at Parkhead. Ambrose could fly back to Scotland on Monday but Celtic are concerned that if Nigeria win the competition their football federation will expect the players to fulfil a series of obligations in the subsequent days.

Juventus have had a similar issue with Kwadwo Asamoah, whom they were trying to have excused from Ghana's third-place play-off match against Mali tonight, and Celtic want the defender to be released immediately after the final. "We are working on it," said Neil Lennon. "It is a conundrum. Juventus have asked for Asamoah and we have already put measures in place to get Efe back. Peter [Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive] and Efe's agent are dealing with it.

"We will need feedback on what kind of condition Efe's going to be in after a huge international game and a 10-12-hour flight. It remains to be seen, although he's a very fit boy. We want him back, obviously, and we will see what condition he is in. Even if he doesn't start on Tuesday he will definitely feature in the squad."

Celtic travel to Inverness and Lennon will make changes in order that some key players are rested, and others remain match fit, ahead of Tuesday.

Fraser Forster will start after missing the last five games because of a neck injury. Emilio Izaguirre, Georgios Samaras and James Forrest are all returning to fitness although today's match could be too soon for them.

Lennon was pleased to learn the England manager, Roy Hodgson, will be in Glasgow for the Juventus game to watch Forster and Gary Hooper. Lennon thought his striker might have been included in the squad for the midweek game against Brazil but Hodgson contacted him to explain he wanted to watch the 25-year-old before deciding whether to select him.

This week, Hodgson told Herald Sport: "We know he is a player we could quite possibly have some good use out of, but first I need to see him."

The knowledge that Hodgson will be watching his every move – and could potentially call him up for the first time for next month's World Cup qualifiers in Montenegro and San Marino – will put additional pressure on Hooper to perform well against the Serie A leaders but Lennon was confident his player will handle the occasion.

"I don't think it will affect him," the Celtic manager said. "He's had people watching him all season and he's aware of it. I think it did affect him in the past but I think he's past that stage now. His whole focus is on beating Juventus and if he gets an England call-up on the back of that, that would be brilliant.

"I thought Roy might have thrown him in during the game there [against Brazil] but he made a point to me that he wasn't going to involve Gary or Fraser, although Fraser's injury would have hampered him anyway. It is really good of Roy to come and watch them and it's great recognition for the players. I really hope they play to the levels that they can."

Juventus face Fiorentina today and Lennon is comfortable with the thoroughness of his research on the Turin club. He will start to brief his players tomorrow. "They are very strong," he said. "They have a great goalkeeper, which always helps. They are pragmatic in their approach: when they defend, they defend in numbers. The two centre-forwards play very much together, they don't go out into the wider areas. They have four very strong central midfield players: Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal.

"They are pretty rigid in the way they play – they have stuck with the same formation basically through all the games. – but if they change the way they play we can adapt. It's a two-leg tie, it's not just one game. You have to stay in contention and be patient.

"Italian teams are very pragmatic and they like to take the sting out of games but they are clinical in the final third, where they have some real quality. Defensively they are aggressive and know their positions very well. I don't want to say whether or not I'm any happier with the draw now than I was when it was made, but last 16, home tie, Glasgow, Celtic Park . . . it's fantastic."

First, the Highlands await. Celtic are 15 points clear of their hosts and are attempting to win in Inverness for a fourth time in a row. Inverness won the sides' most recent meeting, though, when Billy McKay scored the only goal at Parkhead in November.

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