It may have been harsh, but the in the end, the result was emphatic. Celtic are all but out of the Champions League after a 3-0 home defeat to Juventus in the first leg of their last-16 tie amid a night of controversy and regrets.
Neil Lennon’s side had hoped to summon the spirit of their 2-1 victory over Barcelona at Celtic Park in the group stage in November and bridge the gap in quality, but in truth, the Italian champions were too streetwise, too canny and, ultimately, too good.
Lennon had taken a chance with his team selection by picking Efe Ambrose at centre-back just 48 hours after he had helped Nigeria to Africa Cup of Nations glory and it was a decision the Celtic boss was regretting after just three minutes when Ambrose began his hapless night by misjudging the flight of the ball, allowing Alessandro Matri to score to give Celtic a calamitous start.
Celtic rallied with constant pressure, but although Juve keeper Gigi Buffon was busy he was never over-extended and as soon as Celtic legs tired, Juventus showed exactly why they are the best team in Italy by scoring two late goals, the second of which, scored by Mirko Vucinic, was the result of another horrible Ambrose error.
Ambrose also fluffed Celtic’s best chance, placing a free header from six yards out straight into the arms of a grateful Buffon, and his performance was so costly Kris Commons openly criticised the defender post-match.
“Look, the manager picked him,” Commons said. “The manager pulled him to one side and asked him if he was feeling okay. He said he was feeling brilliant. If he wasn’t feeling okay then he should have said so. If he felt good then he should have put in a better performance.
“It was just very sloppy individual mistakes – something you’d probably get away with on a playground, not in the last 16 of the Champions League. There are certain individuals who let the team down.”
Commons’ ire was also reserved for the officials, who failed to spot constant grappling by Juventus defenders at corners that should have resulted in a penalty for Celtic on more than one occasion.
“Gary Hooper was pulled down to the ground on far too many occasions and we got no rewards,” added the former Nottingham Forest man.
“You’ve got a referee there, a guy behind the goal, a linesman – the whole idea of the official behind the goal is to look out for this sort of stuff.
“If he can’t identify when people are being hauled, manhandled, wrestled to the floor, then I don’t think he should be in a job. He’s ten or 15 yards away and if it was a clear foul, it should have been a penalty.”
But no matter, Juventus performed the perfect away performance in Europe at an intimidating venue – manager Antonio Conte was full of praise for the home support – and Lennon has admitted Celtic ‘need a miracle’. Everybody knows they are not going to get it.
Celtic are 8/1 with bwin to salvage pride with a victory at the Juventus Stadium in the second leg in three weeks, with the draw at 4/1 and Juve 3/10 to finish the job with another victory.