By Martin Macdonald
|EUROPEAN ADVENTURE CONTINUES
Celtic's European adventure continues on Tuesday evening, February 12, as they welcome Italian champions, Juventus, to Glasgow in the first knockout stage of the Champions League.
When the draw for the group stage was made, the Hoops found themselves alongside Benfica, Spartak Moscow, and Barcelona, a group that many felt would prove to be too formidable a barrier for the Scottish champions.
However, a superb away win against Spartak Moscow, and a stunning victory against the mighty Barcelona, were a couple of results that helped them on their way to the runners up stage in Group G.
Juventus, meanwhile, lit up the group stage with a number of impressive performances, most notably a 3-0 demolition of holders, Chelsea. The Italian outfit went through to the knockout stage as group leaders.
The last time Celtic made it through to this round in the Champions League they once again faced Italian opposition. A commendable 0-0 draw at home saw the Bhoys travel to San Siro to face the mighty AC Milan full of confidence. However, Ballon d'Or winner, Kaka, broke the hearts of Celtic fans around the world with a goal of individual brilliance in extra time.
The Glasgow outfit go into the match on Tuesday with a question mark over the fitness of a few key players. Emilio Izaguirre and Georgios Samaras are doubtful with a knee and thigh injury respectively, but both are going through extensive recuperation in order to be fit for their most important match of the season. A positive note, however, has been the return of Scotland winger, James Forrest, who may be in contention to face The Old Lady.
Juventus also have some fitness worries of their own. Influential centre-back Giorgio Chiellini will likely miss the match due to a calf injury, with Paolo De Ceglie and Simone Pepe also set to miss out. However, the return of Claudio Marchisio will be a massive boost for Antonio Conte's men.
A key feature of the match will no doubt be the influence of Juventus maestro, Andrea Pirlo. The former AC Milan midfielder has been a revelation since his move to Turin, with some arguing that he should have been awarded a place in the top three for the FIFA Ballon d’OR. A huge call for Neil Lennon waits as he has to decide how to shackle the magic feet of Pirlo in the middle of the park.
The biggest asset to the Celts will no doubt be the second-to-none atmosphere that can be generated inside Parkhead, an atmosphere that has, in the past, seen other European giants falter.
Celtic will take inspiration from their momentous victory over Barcelona in the group stage as they attempt to topple the Italian giants. Goals from Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt cancelled out Lionel Messi's late strike to see Celtic park erupt with celebrations.
Juventus will prove to be a formidable opponent. Make no mistake about it, though, the Hoops are by no means here to make up the numbers.
|LENNON RELISHING JUVE TEST
Celtic manager Neil Lennon has spoken of his excitement at his side's upcoming Champions League knockout clash against Juventus, while also warning the Italian champions not to underestimate their Scottish counterparts.
The Hoops were paired with the Antonio Conte's side in the last 16 after finishing second in group G behind Barcelona, and the Irish coach has revealed just how much he is relishing the tie. Speaking to the media, he said:
"It is the only show around, a European night at Celtic Park. It will be a fantastic football arena, for me one of the best atmospheres in world football, never mind European football and it is for our supporters.
"Obviously the players will play their part but to bring these nights back to the club is something that means a lot to me and anyone who has experienced a Champions League night here before will know what I am referring to."
Lennon also reserved some praise for the Italian side, but has sent out a clear warning to them not to expect a walkover when they come to Glasgow. He also pointed out that he realised that his side were not fancied to progress, but held faith in their abilities. He said:
"The team is blessed with fantastic footballers but we knew that before the tie or before any preparations were made. But it would be dangerous to underestimate Celtic. We have proved already this season that we can be a match for anyone
“We go into the tie as underdogs but nothing is going to be decided at the end of 90 minutes."
Follow Martin Macdonald on