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Ready to go the distance

IT can be said with some certainty that Emilio Izaguirre is at Celtic for the long haul.

Emilio Izaguirre says he will be ready to face Juventus despite having World Cup qualifier at home in Honduras six days earlier Photograph: SNS
Emilio Izaguirre says he will be ready to face Juventus despite having World Cup qualifier at home in Honduras six days earlier Photograph: SNS

The Honduran left-back confirmed last night that his preparation for the crucial Champions League last-16 first leg against Juventus on February 12 will include a couple of 12-hour flights after he was called up for the Central American country's crucial Brazil 2014 qualifier against the USA in San Pedro Sula six days earlier.

The Hondurans topped their qualifying group as they seek a return to the World Cup finals, which they graced in South Africa in 2010, and now find themselves in a six-team elite section from which the top three teams qualify by right, with the continent's fourth-best country playing off against the top side in Oceania.

Izaguirre might have been concerned about the knock-on effect on his club hopes had he not undergone similar upheaval in the run-up to playing Barcelona and Benfica.

The 26-year-old said. "It's a very important game for us. The USA are a very good team and it will be very tough. USA and Mexico are our main rivals for qualification. I haven't spoken to the manager about it because there are a lot of players in the same situation and I am sure that the club are aware of it. The travelling is tiring but it is what I have to do."

Izaguirre spent a couple of days in Paris during his winter break, but is one of those players who would rather be occupied. In the first half of the season he lined up as an orthodox left-back, and as left wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation, but Izaguirre doesn't express a preference.

"I don't like the break," he said. "I like to play every weekend. But I do feel re-energised. I don't mind which position I play because according to the coach we could have five different systems and we have to adapt."

One of the scraps of information which sold Izaguirre on a move to Scotland was watching Celtic's previous Champions League jousts with Juventus, so it is little wonder that the player is eagerly anticipating next month's tie, just like the fans who queued up from the early hours to secure tickets.

The player, who last season came into contact with the likes of Mauricio Isla and Arturo Vidal in the Europa League against Udinese, not to mention Juve's rampaging Swiss right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner at the 2010 World Cup, feels Celtic might be able to find weaknesses in the much-vaunted Italian defence.

"I'm really looking forward to playing," Izaguirre said. "I watched Juve play against Sampdoria at the weekend when they drew 1-1. They are a complete team, defensively and in attack. But maybe from a set-piece we can be dangerous to them."

Rami Gershon and Tom Rogic, who joined Celtic while the squad were in Marbella, both get Izaguirre's seal of approval, even though the left-sided Gershon could be a rival for his first-team place. But he was already confident in the existing players' abilities.

Apart from the odd goal or two, and a fine job annoying Barcelona's Alex Song at Parkhead, the club's supporters have yet to see the best of Miku, the loan signing from Getafe, but Izaguirre has taken him under his wing.

"I speak to everybody but especially Miku because we both speak Spanish and I think he can be an important player for us in the rest of the season," said Izaguirre. "He has played for clubs such as Valencia and Getafe where he scored a lot of goals so he can definitely help Celtic."

Miku and Lassad Nouioui are joined by Gary Hooper, Georgios Samaras, Anthony Stokes, Tony Watt, and Mo Bangura on a crowded list of strikers at the club. Regardless of whether something else changes before the closure of the transfer window – Norwich City's £5 million bid for Hooper was knocked back this week, and Stokes' future is uncertain – Bangura has been offered a fresh start by his manager.

"The slate is wiped clean for Mo," said Lennon. "He's got a big second half of the season to look forward to – and he can show the reasons why we bought him. We have a lot of strikers but we have a heavy schedule and will need them all."

Lennon was shocked by Southampton's sacking of Nigel Adkins, who he spent time with this week at a League Managers Association dinner, and was equally surprised by the imminent departure of Peter Houston, who brings his Dundee United team to Parkhead in a rearranged game on Tuesday night.

"The situation with Nigel defies logic," Lennon said. "It just shows how precarious the job can be and that you can never feel comfortable. All it creates is instability. There may be some of that creeping around Tannadice just now, with the fact Peter is leaving in the summer. But whether that galvanises the players or not, I don't know."

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