On Target: Claudio Marchisio celebrates his second goal against Celtic with his Juventus team-mates
A night that promised so much for Celtic, Scotland and British football, ultimately ended in misery and frustration. The ‘Hoops’ suffered a real set back in their aims to progress to the champions league quarter-finals as goals from Matri, Marchisio and Vucinic saw the Italian champions take a 3-0 victory back with them to Turin.
Celtic went into their last 16 Champions League clash with Juventus at Celtic Park full of confidence and expectation after progressing to this stage of the competition on the back of some unbelievable performances. The last time Juventus met Celtic in Glasgow back in 2001, the Italian giants were left reeling after 2 goals from Celtic striker Chris Sutton saw the home side record a memorable 4-3 victory, and with that game firmly in mind, the Green half of Glasgow packed Celtic Park in hope of something similar from tonight’s encounter.
Manager, Neil Lennon, made 9 changes from the team that won so convincingly at Inverness in their last game, with only Fraser Forster, and Kris Commons retaining their places. As expected, Efe Ambrose was included from the start as Lennon vowed to take the game to Juventus and the inclusion of James Forrest was a certain pointer to that effect.
As was to be expected, Celtic began the game in fine style, pressing and chasing their more illustrious opponents and forcing them to make a series of misplaced passes, all of which served to bring more passion and belief from the noisy Celtic support. The initial signs were looking good for the Hoops, and a shot from Wanyama, and then another from Ambrose forced Buffon into making a flurry of early saves. Celtic began to show that were no pushovers and that they were more than up for the challenge. The one thing that Celtic would have been wary of was to give Juventus an early goal and to give them something to defend. However, after just 3 minutes and with their first venture forward into their opponents half, Juventus took the lead. There looked to be no danger as the ball was played forward towards the Celtic penalty area, but a lapse of concentration by Ambrose allowed Matri to toe-poke a shot through the legs of Forster, and despite the efforts of Kelvin Wilson, the ball crossed the line to give the Italian side the lead.
That was just the start that Celtic were hoping to avoid, but to be honest, if they were affected by the goal, then they certainly did not show it, as they increased their tempo and swarmed forward towards the visitors. Kris Commons was first to test Buffon with a drive from 20-yards, and following a good run and cross from Izaguirre, Commons saw his effort fly well over the bar. It was Commons again who was unlucky on 20 minutes as this time a more spectacular effort following a ball in from Lustig was only a yard or so wide of the far upright. The pressure that Celtic were imposing on Juventus when they were in possession forced the Italians into making several mistakes, and as a consequence little was seen of either Pirlo or Vidal in midfield in the opening exchanges as the home side continued to dominate proceedings. The passing and movement from the Celtic side was very impressive, but for all their dominant play, they were really unable to produce a telling pass when it was needed, and although they had as many as six attempts on goal in the opening 30 minutes, they were all pretty much straight at Buffon, who dealt comfortably with every attempt. There were a few times in the half where the game looked as though it could have got out of hand most notably at corner kicks where a very lenient referee was all too keen to allow the game to go on despite continued pushing, shirt pulling, and blocking. Although eventually Leichsteiner and Hooper were both cautioned for some pushing and shoving in the box.
As the half approached it’s conclusion, James Forrest was shown a yellow card for a late challenge on Pirlo, one of the very few times during the half that the Italian play maker had actually been on the ball, such was the dominance of Celtic. However, for all of Celtic’s possession and effort, the one thing that was missing from their game was the all important goal, and after falling behind so early in the game, it was to their great credit that they were still very much in the match, and were certainly the better of the two teams in the first half.
The second period got under way with Celtic continuing to take the game to their visitors and their effort and tempo seemed to quicken if that were at all possible, and an excellent early cross from Lustig caused more problems for the Italians who were looking decidedly shaky in defence, although Celtic still could not create a clear cut goalscoring opportunity. However following their first corner of the second half, such an opportunity did present itself, and was probably Celtic’s best chance of the whole game. The corner from Commons went short to Mulgrew, and his precise cross found Ambrose all alone 4 yards out , but somehow the big defender could only direct his weak header straight into the arms of Buffon-either side of the ‘keeper, and the game was all square.
From that point, the crowd seemed to sense that this was not going to be Celtic’s night, and for once the most noise was coming from the Juventus fans. Content to hit on the break-perhaps more so because of how Celtic were playing, Juventus almost added a second goal mid-way through the half when an effort from Vucinic was blocked away by Wilson. With 20 minutes to go, Celtic sent on Tony Watt to see if he could reproduce his goalscoring exploits from the Barcelona game, but within minutes of his appearance the game had turned against the Hoops once more. The best passing move of the game opened Celtic up for the first and only time of the game, as Marchisio latched on to a pass inside the box before cutting back inside and sweeping a shot past Forster.
If that wasn’t bad enough for Celtic, minutes later the game, and probably the tie was all over, and unfortunately the goal was the result of another error. Poor Efe Ambrose, only hours ago celebrating an African Nations cup win for his country, was at the centre of two bad errors of judgement that have probably cost his team in further involvement in this season’s champions league competition. Dwelling on the ball just outside the box, he lost possession and seconds later, Vucinic was prodding the ball past Forster to give Juventus a rather comfortable and flattering three nil lead.
For much of the game Celtic had the possession, the effort, the quick tempo, and the obvious talent, but ultimately none of that mattered as it was Juventus in the end who had the one thing that Celtic on the night just could not find…goals. So what began as a night of great expectancy and optimism, eventually fizzled out into nothing more than misery and frustration, and as the saying goes, ‘it’s not all over until the fat lady sings’, but half way through the tie and the ‘fat lady’ is warming up her vocal chords nicely.