Down and most certainly out.
Neil Lennon took a gigantic risk tonight.
There is no denying that Efe Ambrose has been a rock for Celtic during our Champions League campaign, but choosing to start a defender who has just returned from a three week tournament in Africa mere hours before one of the biggest matches in the history of the club was a costly mistake.
The referee was gutless on a number of occasions tonight. Hooper gave as good as he got, and a case can be made for his booking when rising to Lichsteiner’s callous tactics, but for the majority of the match the Celtic players were manhandled in the box or deliberately aggravated behind the referee’s back. That, however, is the perfect example of Juventus’ experience winning out against a young and, at times, naive Celtic squad.
When you consider the age and experience of our squad, we played some impressive, controlled and top-class football, at times dominating one of the best midfields in world football for large spells of the match. You only have to look at how many times Juventus, uncharacteristically, gave the ball away under pressure in their own half.
Yet despite all this, experience and established talent won out in the end in what a lot of people have failed to recognise was a professional, well-orchestrated, efficient and all round clinical performance from the Turin giants. They had complete confidence in their defence, taking the risk of playing deep, sitting back and inviting Celtic to attack (and the statistics show that if Celtic turned even a fifth of their efforts on goal in to proper chances it could have been an entirely different game) but it was a risk that ultimately paid off as we ran ourselves ragged. The astonishing pace and energy of the first half just couldn’t be sustained and as tiredness creeped in, Juventus took full advantage of such inevitable weakness. It should also be noted that we sorely missed the height and tenacity on the big stage of Georgios Samaras. Something which most Celtic fans will now agree with, but would once have choked on their cold-in-the-centre pies at the mere thought of.
It can be looked upon as an opportunity missed by Celtic, but the reality is that was Juventus at their cold and calculating best; they let you think you’re in control of the match before they hurt you when it hurts the most.
We can be proud of our performances in Europe this season and take encouragement from our young and ambitious team, we can even take heart from tonight’s gutsy performance in what was essentially a ruthless defeat, but most of all we can look forward to what looks to be a strong and secure future of Celtic Football Club.
In the end, that’s all that really matters.