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Strong display and a good night's sleep on wish list

EFE Ambrose may be the first visiting defender ever to look forward to a decent snooze around a game against Barcelona at Camp Nou.

Efe Ambrose capped a great day with a goal
Efe Ambrose capped a great day with a goal

When the Celtic squad gathers at Glasgow Airport tomorrow morning for the flight to Spain, Ambrose will have mixed feelings: regret at leaving his wife only four days after she gave birth to their second child, but also the guilty pleasure many fathers enjoy when they have a legitimate reason to leave behind a crying new-born. Ambrose will doubtless get a better night's sleep in Barcelona tomorrow than he would be staying with wife Adenike and their baby girl.

Celtic's final Group H match on Wednesday night is a dead rubber: they are guaranteed to finish bottom and Barcelona have already qualified. Those circumstances and the absence of the injured Lionel Messi have knocked much of the lustre off what otherwise would be a showpiece occasion, and it briefly crossed Ambrose's mind to ask if he could be excused the trip. "I feel like not going, but this is my job and I have to go to help my team," he said.

"That is why I am with Celtic. Adenike understands that I play football and she has to deal with the situation back home. You could say that it's not the worst time to be going away from home as well. But seriously, playing and scoring as a I did at Motherwell [on Friday night] is a fantastic gift to give my daughter. It's a day I will never forget and when she is old enough I will tell her about what happened on her birthday."

His manager, Neil Lennon, described Ambrose's Friday as a "Carlsberg day", alluding to the famous advertisements about everything going right. Ambrose became a father again, watched Nigeria be drawn in a World Cup finals group with Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, and then scored one of Celtic's five unanswered goals at Fir Park. "It's just something magical and a day that I find difficult to express in words," said the 25-year-old. "I can only express my joy and thank my team-mates for the support they have shown to me, and my family for what they have done throughout my career. As a team they have all played a big part in giving me the greatest day of my life. When I signed for Celtic it felt like a home from home and I have enjoyed everything about it. I'm still enjoying my time here and now with the arrival of a Scottish baby it just confirms that feeling."

Celtic will need Ambrose at his best at Camp Nou, along with Virgil van Dijk, Mikael Lustig, Emilio Izaguirre, Fraser Forster and the midfielders who will protect that back five. Barcelona are a diminished force without Messi, with less penetration after their endless passing sequences, but they still have enough attacking prowess to make a mess of visiting teams.

They have scored nine goals since losing him to a hamstring injury on November 10. After 7-0 and 5-0 against Hearts and Motherwell in their last two games, Celtic will be reacquainted with a side which will starve them of possession and chances. Celtic must ensure what has been a joyless Champions League campaign does not end with another disheartening, heavy defeat.

"We will go to Camp Nou and try to put a smile back on the faces of the Celtic team," said Ambrose. "We know we are out and we can't qualify. It's not only about pride. It's about playing good football and we should go to enjoy ourselves and try to take something. We are creating chances and scoring goals."

When Celtic were there last year they delivered an impressively diligent and gutsy performance only to concede a goal deep in stoppage time and lose 2-1. Messi played that night but Ambrose will have to wait until Brazil next summer before facing the little genius again, after the World Cup draw put their countries together.

"We have a chance, every team that has qualified can consider themselves a top, top side and they all deserve to be there," he said. "It's Messi again. Every time it's myself and Messi. But we can stop him again. It's maybe good that we don't face him this time with Celtic, but Barcelona are still a very good team even without Messi."

In fact, Barcelona, leading La Liga, will finish as Group H winners unless Celtic manage to beat them.

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