Korea Republic midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung says Celtic need to win all their home games if they are to qualify from their UEFA Europa League group, starting with the visit of Udinese this Thursday. The Italian side, who sat joint-top of Serie A after three games, defeated Rennes in their opening Group I fixture, while the Hoops slumped to a 2-0 away defeat against Atletico Madrid. But despite conceding they face a tough task to qualify from the group, Ki has targeted home dominance as the key to progressing.
"It is not going to be an easy game against Udinese as they are a good side and also they are doing very well in the Italian league," the Korea Republic international said. "But it is our home game, which means that we have a lot of fans behind us. We have an advantage for it so we just want to try our best and want to win the game.
"Home advantage is very important. Away games are not easy, especially in the Europa League or Champions League, so we should at least draw one of our away games and we should win all our home games. That is our target. We have just played one game. If we win this game against Udinese we still have a chance. But I've said before, it is not going to be an easy match. We have to work at our best and especially if we get a chance, we need to score a goal otherwise it is going to be hard. But we still have confidence."
It is a second chance in Europe for Celtic after they were reinstated in the competition by UEFA when FC Sion, who beat them 3-1 in qualifying, were thrown out after they were judged to have fielded ineligible players. However, manager Neil Lennon admitted that next Sunday's Scottish Premier League match against Hearts held more importance for the club than progression in the Europa League. "Both games are important but the priority is the championship," Lennon said. "But I will be looking for a better performance after the Atletico Madrid game. We have had a lot of good reports on Udinese. It's a game to whet the appetite for the players and the supporters."
Celtic warmed up for the match against Udinese with a clinical performance in a 2-0 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday at Parkhead that kept them four points behind rivals Rangers at the top of the SPL. Rangers had piled the pressure on the Hoops as goals from Carlos Bocanegra, Maurice Edu and a Steven Naismith double helped thrash Dunfermline 4-0 in the early kick-off. But Celtic, who lost out in last week's Old Firm derby, responded in positive fashion with first-half strikes from Joe Ledley and James Forrest enough to defeat bottom of the table Inverness.
Celtic will have to face the Italians with a makeshift defence after Lennon revealed centre-back Kelvin Wilson has been ruled out for up to ten weeks, joining Emilio Izaguirre and Scott Brown on the treatment table. "He has got a tear in the Achilles tendon. He had a scan yesterday and the specialist said it could take as long as that," the Celtic manager said.
"It is a huge blow considering we already have Emilio Izaguirre out so it just means we have to re-jig things defensively. Charlie Mulgrew was out with suspension but he will be back in contention for both games this week. He has been playing very well and he makes us better. Thomas Rogne has not played a lot of football since his injury. We would like to get him some game time but I don't think he is far away."
Striker Gary Hooper was taken off as a precaution in the match against Inverness following a knock to the leg, but Lennon said he hoped to have him available for Thursday.