Celtic cruelly exposed by Juve
Celtic 0 Juventus 3: Celtic’s Champions League campaign appears all but over after a 3-0 home defeat to Juventus, who punctured the groundswell of optimism around Parkhead with ruthless efficiency tonight.
The homeside dominated much of the second round first leg tie but were always chasing the game after conceding in the third minute to Alessandro Matri’s strike and were then twice exposed on the break by Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic in the final 15 minutes.
They deserved more, and could well have got it, had Efe Ambrose not been shrugged off the ball too easily in the build-up to the opener or robbed of possession for the third. The homeside could argue, with some justification, that the referee might have punished the visitors on one of the numerous occasions their man-marking crossed the line in the box, but most of all they will rue the fact they did not create as much as their play deserved, and when they did, they failed to take their chances.
The best of them fell to the unfortunate Ambrose just after the hour, when the defender found himself unmarked six yards out and attacking a pinpoint cross. His header was tame, directed into the ground and gratefully gathered by Ginaluigi Buffon.
The Hoops had beaten Barcelona and Spartak Moscow in the group stages in finishing second to the Catalans to reach the knockout stages for the first time in five seasons. Lennon had predicted the “thunder” would be back in the east end of Glasgow for the visit of the Serie A champions and indeed the decibel levels were off the scale as both sides emerged from the tunnel.
Some home fans would have been surprised to see defender Ambrose in the starting line-up. The defender played for Nigeria in their 1-0 African Nations Cup final win over Burkina Faso on Sunday evening and did not arrive back in Glasgow until this morning.
Emilio Izaguirre shrugged off a knee injury to take his place at left-back in a 4-5-1 formation, while winger James Forrest returned after recovering from a hamstring complaint, although Georgios Samaras failed to recover from the same injury.
A strong Juventus side in a 3-5-2 formation included star midfielder Andrea Pirlo.
Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama set the tone for a frantic start with a speculative shot from distance, which Juve’s veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon let slip out of his hands for a corner that came to nothing. However, the visitors stormed into the lead with their first real attack, when Federico Peluso’s pass caught out Ambrose.
Matri poked it past keeper Fraser Forster and although Hoops defender Kelvin Wilson valiantly cleared the ball it had crossed the line, with Marchisio sweeping it high into the net to make sure.
It was exactly the start the home side did not want but they fought back, and Wanyama had another effort from outside the box, this time dealt with more confidently by Buffon. However, the Italians looked razor sharp in attack and a cross from wide-man Peluso found Marchisio unmarked at the back post but his volley at a stretch from eight yards went wide.
Buffon then saved from Kris Commons’s low drive and in the 15th minute the Scotland midfielder had a better chance when Izaguirre’s cross from the left landed at his feet but, unbalanced, he blazed over from 10 yards. Juve’s threat on the break was very real but Celtic, playing at a high tempo, were undoubtedly on top, although the home support grew increasingly frustrated by referee Alberto Undanio Mallenco’s decisions.
Commons looked hell-bent on scoring and he came close in the 28th minute when his over-head kick from right-back Mikael Lustig’s cross slipped past the far post.
At times the game threatened to boil over.
In the 37th minute, after Celtic striker Gary Hooper and Juventus defender Stephan Lichsteiner were both booked for wrestling as they awaited Commons’ corner, Wanyama headed the midfielder’s delivery over the bar.
The Parkhead men resumed control when the second half started and Juve found themselves struggling to get out of their own half but attacks were breaking down at the edge of the visitors’ penalty area.
Full-back Adam Matthews was a straight replacement for Lustig on the hour mark.
Three minutes later Ambrose had his chance to level when Charlie Mulgrew, after taking a short corner from Commons, planted a cross right on to his head but his effort was weak.
Celtic were in control but they escaped in the 65th minute following a Juve break when Wilson blocked Vucinic’s goal-bound shot after more good work by Peluso down the left.
In the 73rd minute Tony Watt, who had scored in the 2-1 win over Barcelona, came on for Commons but three minutes later Celtic’s European hopes lay in tatters when Marchisio took a pass from Matri, cut inside and fired past Forster at his near post from 12 yards.
Celtic’s resistance was broken and with seven minutes remaining Marchisio set up Vucinic to slot past Forster to almost certainly end the Hoops’ European involvement for the season.