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Byline: Robert MARTIN

STUTTGART coach Felix Magath last night insisted the absence of Henrik Larsson will make no difference when his side face Celtic tomorrow.

In fact he reckons that will only make Chris Sutton and Co even more determined to make up for his absence.

The German coach rates his side's chances of making it through to the last eight of the competition at no more than 50-50.

That is partly because their run of four successive wins came to a halt at the weekend when they were defeated 2-0 by Schalke.

And the fact Schalke triumphed without the services of their top scorer Ebbe Sand has set the alarm bells ringing in Magath's entourage.

Even though many observers - not to mention most Celtic fans - believe Larsson's injury has swung the tie in the Germans' favour, Magath last night claimed a team missing their number one player can be even more dangerous.

He said: "It is not always an advantage for the opposing team if a star player is out.

"So the fact that Larsson is not playing shouldn't be a disadvantage - in fact it might be an advantage as we saw on Saturday.

"Ebbe Sand did not play but it was not a help to us. They played Victor Agabi instead and he caused us many problems.

"With Chris Sutton available they still have a well above average front man as well as a very talented youngster in Shaun Maloney.

"In him I see similar parallels to the good youngsters we have at this club. So I assume that despite the loss of Larsson they will be very well-armed in attack."

Magath revealed he was impressed at the way Celtic had disposed of Blackburn Rovers and Celta Vigo to reach this stage of the competition. He also admitted he is very wary of the physical threat Martin O'Neill's side possess, especially at set pieces.

And the coach reckons his players will have to try and keep the ball on the ground at all times if they are to go on and silence the Parkhead crowd.Stuttgart are taking a large travelling support of 3,500 to Parkhead. That is the biggest the Germans have had outwith their two European finals against Chelsea in 1998 and Napoli in 1989.

In many ways Magath sees tomorrow's clash as similar to the Schalke game, which also drew a crowd of 60,000 most of whom were hostile to Stuttgart.

This time, though, Magath is hoping his team will have learned their lesson, and will be ready for whatever the Hoops have to throw at them.

And he is optimistic his side can take some sort of result back to the Gottlieb Daimler Stadium next week.

He said: "I hope very much that my players don't think about the Schalke match any more because this match is very important to us, everybody knows that.

"I think our chances are no better than fifty-fifty, because we are up against a top class side full of international players.

"They are the top team in Scotland along with Rangers and they are expected to get into the Champions League every season.

"This season they lost to Basel, but the fact they have since beaten Blackburn and Celta Vigo shows what we are up against.

"Celtic are very good in the air, and even in Glasgow we have to make sure that we avoid letting them play in our own half of the field.

"The Scots are going to try and apply a lot of pressure and they will hunt us down.

"I think it will be similar to the Schalke game but I want my team to approach this match in a different manner.

"Although we will be at their ground we have to try and play the game we play in Germany every week.

"That means first and foremost we must try and keep the ball on the ground and to play football.

"I think we are probably technically better than they are, and maybe if we can play a quick passing game then we can cause them problems.

"I don't think 0-0 should be our target. We will be trying to score at least one goal and if we can do that then we will have an excellent chance of going through to the next round."


LARS ACTION HERO: Larsson scoring for Celtic as they eliminate Blackburn Rovers; DANGER MAN: Sutton will be Celtic's main threat; BHOY WONDER: Magath rates Maloney highly; PHYSICAL EDUCATION: Magath will warn his men about Celtic's strength; MISSING: Ebbe Sand
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 19, 2003
Next Article:Football: Berti vows to ignore Stutt's call.

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