I was hoping to begin this article with the words 'Forza Celtic', followed by a long piece about another fantastic European result. And for 70 minutes I held genuine hope of that being the case. Celtic - scintillating but trailing. 20 minutes later Juventus had all but finished of the tie.
To my mind, for Celtic to win three areas would be crucial: an outstanding goalkeeping performance, clinical finishing and favourable refereeing. Unfortunately, in all three of these areas, the Italians fared significantly better.
Fraser Forster or 'The Great Wall' as he was titled by the Catalan press, was hardly at fault for any of the goals, but on another day he could have pulled off saves for all three of those goals. Buffon, despite his inability to kick, was sublime. Goalkeeping at its core is about positioning and handling, and there is none better then Gianluigi Buffon. With confidence in their defensive abilities, Juventus played a counter-attacking game. They had four chances and converted three. It was the archetypal 'Italian Job;. The title of this piece, other than being a personal over-indulgence with alliteration, refers to one concept of fair play, appreciation of your opponents' abilities. Fair play to Juventus, their clinical, counter-attacking performance was impressive. However, their antics, aided by an embarrassing refereeing display, were not in the spirit of fair play.
Celtic's corner strategies rely on limiting the opposition goalkeeper's movement. Once this is done, swinging corners from Mulgrew or occasionally Commons (much to my displeasure) are met by the likes of Wanyama, Samaras or occasionally Ambrose (much to my displeasure). It has been a tactic that produced much success for Celtic in the Champions League. Conte, the Juventus manager, commented that he had never heard such a roar for a corner. The fans had every right to have such anticipation - we were blooming good at them. Juventus' strategy to counter this was effective and entirely illegal. Led by Lichtsteiner they sought to grapple the Celtic players, preventing them from running onto the ball and in turn giving Buffon room to collect the ball. Joey Barton described these tactics as bordering GBH. Whilst not wishing to go that far, I was led to wonder if the Italians thought our players put horse meat in their lasagne, such was the ferocity of the man-handling. This tactic worked with tremendous success due to the referee's ineptitude. His performance disgusted much of the twittershpere, the media and especially our manager. He booked Hooper for no apparent reason and denied Celtic, five or six clear penalties. Yet when the ball left the box, even the softest contact was deemed a foul. Too frequently fans are left flabbergasted by the quality of Scottish refereeing. This years Champions League has been evidence that this problem is endemic throughout the European game.
Tactically, Neil Lennon has grown as a manager. Previously his main skills were as a motivator, but now he can also be said to be an astute tactician. In the first half, Celtic's superiority was beyond the hopes of even the most biased of fans. His team were quick to break, used the ball well and deployed an effective front three. The fans, as ever, were magnificent, but one can have nothing but respect for our guests. Their supporters were fantastic ambassadors for the Old Lady. As I write this, I am surrounded in Glasgow Airport. Waves upon waves of Italians are passing by with green and white scarves, and green bags from the Celtic store in the airport.
A great game ended without much luck for Celtic, and no team in Champions League history has ever overturned a 3-0 home-leg deficit. Isn't it time for that record to be broken! Bring on 'The Turnaround in Turin'.
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