With ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ reverberating around Parkhead ahead of kick-off, this last-16 tie had the makings of a very special European night. Juventus travelled to Glasgow without a victory in two previous visits and faced the daunting prospect of a vociferous home crowd. It was imperative that Celtic pegged Juve back in the opening exchanges but the Hoops were unlocked by the Serie A champions’ first meaningful attack. Neil Lennon took a gamble by reinstating Efe Ambrose into his starting line-up after the centre-half lifted the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria on Sunday – and the Celtic manager’s decision backfired. Ambrose struggled to deal with a long ball and Alessandro Matri raced clear, poking his shot under Fraser Forster. Despite Kelvin Wilson’s desperate clearance off the line, Claudio Marchisio reacted quickest, and put the rebound into Celtic’s net. Replays showed it was Matri’s goal but Lennon’s men were shockingly lacklustre in their reaction to Wilson’s heroics. Lennon was left to further rue Ambrose’s inclusion. The 24-year-old was the architect of the away side’s third goal in the second half. He dawdled on the ball too long and was pick-pocketed by Marchisio, with the Italy international feeding Mirko Vucinic and the striker tucking his finish past Forster to all but end the last-16 tie as a contest.
Scott Brown’s attempts to limit Andrea Pirlo’s influence in the first leg provided one of the more interesting battles at Parkhead. The Hoops skipper brings a boisterous energy to Celtic’s midfield with his repertoire of full-blooded challenges and he didn’t spare Juve’s dextrous Pirlo from the Glasgow treatment. Brown flew in with a beefy challenge midway through the first half which drew the stereotypical hand gestures from the Turin outfit’s skipper. Minutes later, the pair were tussling again after a questionable two-footed tackle upset the Italian maestro who thrust an elbow in the direction of Brown’s midriff. Despite the 33-year-old’s best efforts at morphing into Gennaro Gattuso, Pirlo was at his most comfortable when he was spraying the ball towards his team-mates, exemplified by a sublime pass to Matri which almost unlocked the home side’s defence – again. Of course Brown brings more to Celtic than sheer aggression, and the 27-year-old’s desire saw him pop up in Gianluigi Buffon’s box and fizz an effort goalwards, denied by a desperate clearance. The Hoops skipper tried desperately to manufacture a chance from set-pieces too but was thwarted by cunning Juve defending.
Celtic racked up a record points tally (10) for a Scottish side in the Champions League group stage, largely thanks to their imperious form at Parkhead – and that win in Moscow. If there were any lingering doubts about the Hoops ability to compete against Europe’s elite, Lennon’s men underlined their credentials in the tournament with an impressive performance – for 80 minutes. Celtic approached the first leg with an attacking philosophy as James Forrest and Kris Commons looked to offer support to prolific striker Gary Hooper. The former Derby County man sent a number of rasping shots in Buffon’s direction before attempting an audacious overhead kick which glanced past Juve goalkeeper’s right post. The half-time statistic contradicted the scoreline with the home side boasting 58 per cent of possession and producing 16 efforts in comparison to Juve’s six. Celtic continued to toil in the second half, frantically searching for an equaliser, and peppering efforts at Buffon’s goal. But unfortunately, Celtic’s best chance to level fell to Ambrose, who endured 90 minutes to forget, and the defender could only direct his header into the turf before it was graciously claimed by the Juve keeper. For all Celtic’s endeavour, the Glasgow outfit were made to pay for wasting their chances as Marchisio finished off a sweeping counter-attack move to hand the visitors a two-goal lead in the 77th minute before Vucinic’s strike.
Alberto Undiano Mallenco faced the unenviable task of keeping a lid on a high-octane Champions League tie in one of Europe’s loudest stadiums. The 32-year-old had officiated 23 previous Champions League games, including Celtic’s 4-0 win against Petržalka in a qualifier in 2005. But he was the centre of focus after a string of decisions went against the home side. Early infringements, which were perhaps at best 50-50, tended to go to the visitors but Lennon was left apoplectic at half-time following a series of fouls on Hooper. The Celtic striker was manhandled by Juve midfielder Stephan Lichtsteiner at every corner, which irked the partisan Kop. Mallenco received little help from his fifth official on the touchline behind Buffon’s goal, and the referee refused to award in the striker’s favour. It was a pattern which continued in the second half as Lennon encouraged his players to target the Buffon-Lichtsteiner axis at corners. He instructed Brown and Ambrose to move in close proximity to the Italy goalkeeper, but the 35-year-old’s handling was flawless. It was Italian defending at his cutest and the Hoops now face a difficult task rescuing this tie in Turin.
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