MOSCOW, September 27 (RIA Novosti)
Spartak Moscow's Aiden McGeady is relishing the prospect of facing his old club Celtic in the Champions League group stage in Moscow next Tuesday.
Both sides are looking to kickstart their Champions League campaign after dropping points in their openers, but for McGeady, who joined Celtic as a schoolboy, the match at Luzhniki stadium promises to be of special significance.
"I'm really glad to get the chance to play against my former club," he told Spartak's website. "I came to Celtic when I was 12, I gew up there, broke into the first team, and of course I still support Celtic in Scotland."
The 26-year-old attacker admitted to being "pleasantly surprised" when the Champions League draw pitted his Russian side against his boyhood team.
"I got lots of calls and SMS messgaes from Glasgow, and the first person I called was Charlie Mulgrew. We started out together when we were just 12," said the Irish international, who was born in Glasgow.
McGeady, who revealed he still follows every Celtic game on the TV or over the internet, praised Neil Lennon's side.
"They're a young team looking to make their mark. Spartak will have a tough game there [for the return leg on December 5], the Scottish are known for giving it their all for the full 90 minutes. I hope we get a lot of supporters at Luzhniki to drive us on."
McGeady got his big break in 2004 at Parkhead, scoring 31 times in 185 league games for Celtic until 2010, when he moved to Russia.
Only Scott Brown remains of the team McGeady left. He singled out 21-year-old winger James Forrest, and striker Gary Hooper as the biggest threat to Spartak on Tuesday.
Spartak opened their Champions League group stage campaign with a creditable 3-2 defeat at Barcelona, a match that they had led with 20 minutes remaining.
Celtic, meanwhile, drew 0-0 in Benfica.
That result played into Spartak's hands, McGeady said.
"But it wsn't a bad result for Celtic either, seeing as Glasgow hasn't had a team in the group stage of the Champions League for the last four years. They've got a group of youngsters who don't have have the required experience for the competition."
For Spartak, though, qualification for the knockout stages is a realistic target, McGeady said.
"Undoubtedly. Looking at how the group could pan out, Barcelona are the stand-out team, but the second place is up for grabs between Spartak, Benfica and Celtic."
"I think we've got huge potential. Last year not many people thought we had a chance of qualifying for the Champions League. But we shamed the skeptics."
McGeady played against Spartak for Celtic in two Champions League qualifiers in 2007. They both ended 1-1, with Celtic progressing on penalties.
Speaking of the return leg at Celtic Park, McGeady noted: "A lot of Celtic fans reckon that match was one of the most exciting ones in the club's European history. Tons of chances, two missed penalties, the drama of extra time."
"It's thanks to those matches that I understood how strong the Premier League is in Russia," he said.
McGeady has said he intends to leave Spartak by 2014, though some reports have said he is keen to move on sooner.
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