Not for the first time, and not for the last, that Old Lady of Turin moniker Juventus enjoy seemed like a pretty inappropriate description of the Italians’ essential characteristic. This Old Lady’s cute, but in a streetwise way.
Celtic found this to their cost on a night when Celtic Park gradually became a green cauldron of frustration. One down after just two minutes to Alessandro Matri’s toe-poke, Celtic recovered to launch a storm of attacks at Juve.
To manager Neil Lennon’s steadily rising exasperation, though, Celtic had all their industry tied down — literally so on too many occasions. At one point in the second half, Lennon grabbed his assistant Garry Parker to illustrate to the fourth official what was going on. But the Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco came late to this as a defining feature of the evening and Juve had stabilised.
Early lead: Claudio Marchisio and Alessandro Matri combined to open the scoring for the Italians
Celtic: Forster, Lustig (Matthews 58), Wilson, Ambrose, Izaguirre, Forrest,Brown (Kayal 80), Wanyama, Mulgrew, Commons (Watt 73), Hooper.
Subs Not Used: Zaluska, Miku, Nouioui, Ledley.
Booked: Hooper, Forrest, Brown.
Juventus: Buffon, Barzagli, Bonucci, Caceres, Lichtsteiner, Vidal, Pirlo, Marchisio, Peluso (Padoin 69), Matri (Pogba 80), Vucinic (Anelka 85).
Subs Not Used: Storari, Giovinco, Quagliarella, Marrone.
Booked: Lichtsteiner, Padoin, Marchisio.
Goals: Matri 3, Marchisio 77, Vucinic 83.
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain)
Stephan Lichtsteiner and substitute Simone Padoin were booked for their grappling at the torrent of Celtic corners, free-kicks and forays but Celtic certainly felt that the punishment did not fit the crime.
Juve manager Antonio Conte identified on Monday the danger Celtic pose from corners. He arrived with a plan.
To their credit, Celtic never allowed their frustration to overwhelm them and they came forward with constant energy. But when they did evade the grasping of Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, the home team ran into Gianluigi Buffon. Buffon’s presence enabled Juve to ride their bumpy way through and then late in the night, they stole away and scored twice more, profiting from some tired Celtic defending.
The impressive-as-usual Claudio Marchisio scored the first of these, sliding a shot past Fraser Forster on 77 minutes. Juve had one foot in the last eight when that went in and Mirko Vucinic all but guaranteed their place there six minutes later.
Vucinic scored a very similar goal to Marchisio’s. It was harsh on Celtic.
Desperate dive: Kelvin Wilson tries to prevent the ball from crossing the line
Making sure: Marchisio smashes the ball over the line
Nicolas Anelka became the second player to play for six different Champions League teams, the first was Zlatan Ibrahomovic.
Harsh was the word Lennon chose, although his obvious anger stemmed from referee Mallenco not being hard enough. ‘I thought the referee was poor, he was pro-Juventus,’ Lennon said.
‘It’s not rugby we’re playing, it’s soccer. I pointed it out to the referee at half-time in the tunnel area but he just waved me away. Our players were being fouled, man-handled. I would like to ask the Italian journalists how they thought Juve defended. They fouled us at every opportunity. Are the rules different in Spain and Italy?’
Conte, as to be expected, basically declined to comment.
‘Criticism is a bad habit of ours in Italy, so tonight I’ll leave that to the Celtic manager,’ he said.
Faces in the crowd: Singer Rod Stewart and comedian Billy Connolly watch Celtic
Celtic’s night was soured by it all. ‘It’s the harsh reality of football at this level,’ Lennon added. ‘It was not a great start but our reaction was fantastic and we were on the front foot for 70-80 minutes, we were the better side.’
Lennon was also asked about Efe Ambrose. Had he had a better night, it might have been very different for all concerned.
Ambrose won the Africa Cup of Nations with Nigeria in Johannesburg on Sunday and Celtic rushed him back from South Africa. Lennon needed him; Celtic possess limited resources. Ambrose became a key figure for the wrong reasons however. He was culpable for two goals and missed Celtic’s best chance of the game in the 62nd minute. With the score 1-0, Ambrose met Charlie Mulgrew’s in-swinging cross six yards out. For once, a Celtic player was free in the Juve box.
Tussle: Celtic striker Gary Hooper tangles with Stephan Lichsteiner
Fight for the ball: Wilson vies for the ball with Alessandro Matri
Strong challenge: Celtic's Emilio Izaguirre is brought down by Juventus' Leonardo Bonucci
‘He was caught for the first goal,’ Lennon said of Ambrose, ‘though it was nothing to do with tiredness. Once he got over that he was fine.
‘There was no tiredness when he should score. It was just a bad miss. Maybe he did tire as the game went on.’
The story of Celtic’s game in this area was a tale of such direct efforts at Buffon. When Ambrose missed, it was another. The huge ground groaned. Not for the last time. Lennon had been bold to recall Ambrose and he was bold in other ways too.
Doubling the advantage: Juventus' Claudio Marchisio scores his side's second goal
All over: Marchisio celebrates his goal against Celtic
Georgios Samaras did not make it back from his hamstring injury and Lennon threw in James Forrest, who joined Kris Commons and Gary Hooper in a three-man attack whose job was to defend from the front.
This discomfited Juve. With the tyro trio stationed on the edge of the Juve area and chasing down everything, Buffon was unable to orchestrate play via his defenders and their pivot, Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo showed flashes but Celtic’s tactics worked in that he was not the director of last night’s production.
That was because Juve spent the majority of the game on the back foot as Celtic poured forward.
This was not simply random pressure. Celtic were moving the ball around midfield with speed, Victor Wanyama standing out, and his captain Scott Brown.
Three and easy: Mirko Vucinic makes it 3-0 in the dying minutes
Looking on: Celtic keeper Fraser Forster looks dejected at the end of the game
Down and out: Celtic's players stand dejected after Juventus' third goal
Arsenal’s chief scout Steve Rowley was here to watch Wanyama, while England manager Roy Hodgson was also in attendance, presumably to look at Hooper and Celtic keeper Forster. Full backs Emilio Izaguirre and Mikael Lustig were also prominent.
But Juventus took it all, helped by that early strike. It originated on the left with Federico Peluso. He dinked a 30-yard chip towards Matri, who challenged for the ball with Ambrose.
Matri outmuscled Ambrose and when the ball fell the Juve forward was on to it. Forster had rushed from goal but Matri got there first and clipped the ball under him.
‘We need a miracle,’ Lennon said of the second leg. If Celtic produce one, Lennon may head south from Turin to Rome. There’s a big vacancy there.