Ever since Kris Commons rifled his penalty kick past Spartak Moscow’s Sergey Pesyakov on December 5th to give Celtic a 2-1 win and qualify them for the Champions League last 16, everybody at the Glasgow club has been counting the days until ‘Zadok The Priest’ rings out around the famous old ground once again.
The draw two weeks later paired them with Italian giants Juventus and while SPL and domestic cup competitions have taken centre stage since then, the tie has been at the forefront of the minds of everyone at the club ever since.
Neil Lennon’s decision to rest nine first-team stars for Saturday’s 3-1 win against Inverness CT showed where his priorities lie and the enormous snaking queue for tickets, in contrast to some disappointing league attendances at Celtic Park, demonstrates that the supporters share their manager’s views.
Yes, this is without doubt the biggest game that Celtic have played since Gordon Strachan led them to the same stage of the same competition six years ago.
On that occasion, they were eliminated in extra-time at the San Siro by a goal from Kaka after holding AC Milan to two scoreless draws over the two legs.
Andrea Pirlo played for Milan in that tie and he will line up against the Hoops again for Juventus as his aging legs show no sign of losing any of their magic.
But Pirlo isn’t the only current Juve player to know exactly how tough it can be to beat Celtic.
Gianluigi Buffon sat on the bench as Martin O’Neill’s side beat the Old Lady 4-3 in a Champions League classic at Celtic Park in 2001, while he was beaten twice (by Stiliyan Petrov and Henrik Larsson) at the Stadio Olimpico as his side scored a last-minute penalty to win 3-2 in the home match.
In fact, in the four previous meetings between the sides, Celtic have won two of them – both at Celtic Park.
As well as the 2001 triumph, they also won 1-0 at Celtic Park in the European Cup in 1981 thanks to a goal by Murdo MacLeod, meaning that they have a 100% record against the Italian side on home soil.
This fact, combined with a record of two wins and a draw in Glasgow’s east end in this season’s group stages, shows that Celtic have got what it takes to stun European football again by getting a result on Tuesday.
Lennon’s men are 7/2 to win the game, meaning that new customers who sign up online with bwin and use their free £20 bet to back a famous win will scoop £90 if successful.
A draw, on offer at 5/2, will return £70 from that stake, making it slightly less lucrative financially but more likely in terms of probability.
Antonio Conte’s side are favourites at odds of 39/50, but this is based more on reputation than current form, given that they have won only two of their last five games in all competitions, despite sitting five points clear at the top of Serie A.
But with Celtic facing a daunting task in the away leg in a fortnight, you get the impression that this game on Tuesday is their big chance, and one that they don’t intend to pass up.
And if they can beat Barcelona at Celtic Park, they can beat anybody.