Champions League just beginning, says Conte
TURIN, Italy (AFP) –
Juventus coach Antonio Conte said the Italian giants’ bid for European glory is just beginning after a 2-0 second leg win over Celtic ended the Scots’ faint hopes of making it to the last eight of the Champions League.
Juve had taken a huge step towards the quarter-finals thanks to a 3-0 win over the Scottish champions at Celtic Park last month.
At a packed but drenched Juventus Stadium, Celtic produced a positive first-half performance but went in for the break 1-0 down after a 24th minute strike by Alessandro Matri.
The visitors continued to press but found Juve’s defence virtually impenetrable and their hopes were over when Fabio Quagliarella tapped home Arturo Vidal’s square ball past a beaten Fraser Forster just after the hour.
Juve’s last appearance in the quarter-finals of the Champions League was in 2006 when they were ousted by Arsenal.
Ahead of next week’s draw, Conte — who was quick to applaud Celtic and their fans — said the Italian champions would be “humble” when it comes to meeting “strong” sides like Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.
Asked how he would approach the next phase of the competition, Conte — who won the Champions League with Juventus as a player in 1988 — said: “We have to wait for the draw.
“I tend to be a fatalist so we have to watch out and see which players we do have available and who we come up against.
“We’re now in a very positive situation, but with some pros and cons. But I hope we will be able overcome the challenges that lie ahead.”
With a six-point lead over Napoli at the top of Serie A, Juve are also in a battle to defend their league title. With the extra challenge, Conte says this stage of the season is crucial.
“We’re at the halfway stage, and we can’t afford any slip ups. Also in Serie A we can’t make any mistakes. We have to be totally focused, make sure our players remain in good condition.”
With Juventus keeping a clean sheet in their past five Champions League games at home, Celtic manager Neil Lennon was left lamenting narrowly failing to score at a ground he labelled a “fortress”.
“The difference is the quality in the final third,” said the Celtic coach.
“We had good chances again and we didn’t take them. We played some decent football but we missed some really good chances to score or at least get back into the game.
“Quality counts, and that’s what makes the differece between the two teams.”
Lennon, however, refused to admit that playing in the relatively low key Scottish Premier League was a handicap when it comes to facing the giants of European football.
“I think the handicap we have is we’re probably probably 100 million pounds (in terms of budget) behind most squads in the last 16 of the Champions League,” he added.
“We’ve proved that we can play in the Champions League. The difference is, the bigger clubs have far greater spending power and stronger squads and you have to look at Juve’s bench tonight. Some great players.”
He added: “You always want more. Over the two games we played very well. We just came up a little bit short in some areas.
“And there’s no shame in that. Juve have a great work ethic. They might not have the same flamboyance of a Barcelona, but they work so hard for each other. They have great balance and going forward they were a threat.
“They’ve got a great chance of winning it, and I hope they do. You always want to go out to the eventual winners.”