Celtic succumb to ruthless Juventus
Celtic 0 Juventus 3
Celtic need a football miracle if they are to rescue their Champions League hopes after succumbing to a ruthless Juventus side in the first leg of their last-16 clash at Parkhead.
Juve striker Alessandro Matri rocked the Hoops with a third-minute goal only for Neil Lennon’s side to battle back ferociously in a breathless encounter where, at times, the visiting penalty box resembled a wrestling ring.
However, despite their best efforts, the Scottish champions were hit by a sucker-punch in the 76th minute when midfielder Claudio Marchisio grabbed a second on the counter before striker Mirko Vucinic grabbed a third in the 83rd minute.
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 Efe Ambrose in the starting line-up.
The Hoops 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, the main support behind a front two of Matri and Vucinic.
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.
This was certainly no cat-and-mouse European tie.
Buffon then saved from Kris Commons’ 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 a great chance to level when Charlie Mulgrew, after taking a short corner from Commons, planted a cross right on to his head but his weak header from eight yards went straight into the arms of the grateful Buffon.
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.
The Italian champions tried to take the sting out of the game but without much success.
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.