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Champions League Match Preview: Celtic vs Juventus

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Preview
1.24K   //    12 Feb 2013, 17:30 IST

Stadium: Celtic Park, Glasgow, Scotland

Kick off: Tuesday 19:45 GMT, 20:45 CET, Wednesday 01:15 IST (will be telecast on Ten Action Plus in India)

The game is the epitome of a David vs Goliath clash. Celtic, the reigning Scottish League champions, have defied all odds as they came through a group consisting of the mighty Barcelona, along with Benfica and Spartak Moscow. While everyone predicted the Hoops to be the the whipping boys in the group, they had plans of their own as they turned the tables on almost every pundit and went on a glorious run in the Champions League Group Stage which included a victory over Barcelona at home.

“Bye bye Celtic – they’ve drawn Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow”, read the famous ITV (the national broadcaster) tweet after the Group Stage draw. Look where they stand now.

Standing before them now are Juventus, the reigning Italian champions and one of the favourites for the tournament. The Old Lady is back in all her grandeur as they made a much anticipated comeback to Europe’s elite championship after a gap of two years. Under the tutelage of Antonio Conte, Juventus won the Serie A last season while remaining undefeated, and are rolling back the years on their way to once again becoming one of the big powerhouses of Europe.

Form 

Celtic : WWLWWW
Jan 19Celtic4-1Heart of MidlothianPremier League
Jan 22Celtic4-0Dundee UnitedPremier League
Jan 27St Mirren3-2CelticCommunities League Cup (Semi-finals)
Jan 30Celtic4-1KilmarnockPremier League
Feb 3Raith Rovers0-3CelticScottish Cup (Round 5)
Feb 9Inverness Caledonian Thistle1-3CelticPremier League

Neil Lennon’s team seems to have found form at the right time just ahead of their round of 16 clash. 5 wins in their last 6  games, which includes a 4-1 thrashing of Hearts followed by a 4-0 thumping of Dundee United, certainly vindicates the manager’s claim of finding their “mojo” back. With a comfortable 18 point lead at the top of the Scottish league table, one would forgive the Parkhead outfit if they turned their attentions to the pressing issue of probably one of the biggest ties in the history of Celtic Football Club.

It would be foolish to underestimate the might of the Scottish outfits as three teams that did have already perished at the hand of the mighty Hoops. Neil Lennon has already spelt out that they will be relishing this opportunity, and why shouldn’t they, with nothing to lose.

Juventus :  WDDLWW

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Jan 19Juventus4-0UdineseSerie A
Jan 22Juventus1-1LazioCoppa Italia (Semi-finals)
Jan 26Juventus1-1GenoaSerie A
Jan 29Lazio2-1JuventusCoppa Italia (Semi-finals)
Feb 3Chievo Verona1-2JuventusSerie A
Feb 9Juventus2-0FiorentinaSerie A

It’s fair to say that Juventus’ form has been indifferent of late which led to them being knocked out of the Coppa Italia in the semi-finals last month. Wins over Chievo and a quality Fiorentina side in their previous two games however will do their confidence a world of good going into the hostile arena that is Celtic Park.

The Juventus team certainly may not be in the same form as Celtic. However, the presence of old heads like Pirlo and Buffon, who have experienced these kind of situations beforehand, in their team and their contribution would have have a definite impact on the final result.

Team News

Celtic

Neil Lennon will be hoping that their Greek forward Georgios Samaras will be fit to start the game at Celtic Park. The Greek international represents a vital cog in the Celtic footballing machinery as he has the ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play. Samaras will be assessed on game day.

Honduran left back Emilio Izaguirre trained with the team and is expected to shake off his knee injury quick enough to start. Efe Ambrose is expected back from his triumph with Nigeria in the African Cup of Nations but it’s still unsure if he would be able shake of his travel blues.

Juventus

The old lady will be without the services of long term absentees Giorgio Chiellini, Nicklas Bendtner and Simone Pepe. Paolo De Ceglie is also expected to be missed for some time to come as scans have shown him having a tear in the semitendinosus muscle.

The good news for Juventus would include the comebacks of  Mauricio Isla and Leonardo Bonucci, who make a return after shaking off a flu and a domestic suspension respectively. Kwadwo Asamoah should be available as well after coming back from his African Cup of Nations duty.

Players to watch

Celtic 

Gary Hooper was subject to four bids from Norwich on deadline day but Celtic refused to budge as they knew that they would require  their hitman in these kind of games. It was the Englishman’s goal scoring exploits in the Group Stage that led the hoops to the knock-out stage and he must be up for probably the biggest game of his young career.

Juventus boss Conte also pin-pointed the English striker as the main threat that his side will have to reckon with, saying in the pre-match press conference: “Hooper up front is a player who, with the greatest of respect to Scotland, could excel in our championship in Italy. He is a very fast player who attacks the spaces very well and is a good finisher.”

Juventus

Andrea Pirlo is the heart and soul of the Juventus team. How the score-line looks at the end of the game would depend much upon the performance of the bearded wizard. With the growing beard of his, Andrea Pirlo reminds us more of Chuck Norris with each passing day and with his skills in the midfield, it wouldn’t be fool-hardy to call him the Chuck Norris of football.

The Italian maestro’s battle with Victor Wanyama and Scott Brown in particular should set the tone for the game.

Pirlo himself looks to be focused on the game and already seems to learning where other  “big” teams went wrong against the Parkhead outfit. “We are ready for anything. We have seen how Celtic beat Barcelona, but maybe we are better prepared than the Catalans on how to adapt to the circumstances” – Andrea Pirlo.

Previous Encounters

- JUVENTUS 2 CELTIC 0 (European Cup first round second leg, September 1981)

JUVENTUS 2 CELTIC 0 (European Cup first round second leg, September 1981)

- JUVENTUS 3 CELTIC 2 (Champions League Group Stage, September 2001)

- CELTIC 4 JUVENTUS 3  (Champions League Group Stage, October 2001)
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