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Celtic v Juventus: Nedved prepares for ‘lion’s den’

Alessandro Matri retrieves his boot after scoring without it on Saturday. Picture: Getty

Alessandro Matri retrieves his boot after scoring without it on Saturday. Picture: Getty

  • by MASSIMO MARZOCCHI
 

JUVENTUS director Pavel Nedved believes Saturday night’s 2-0 victory over Fiorentina was the perfect way to prepare for the “lion’s den” that awaits the Bianconeri in Glasgow tomorrow.

Juve warmed up for a last-16 Champions League tie at Celtic by brushing Fiorentina aside with goals by Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri, a result that sent the Italian champions five points clear at the top of Serie A.

Nedved feels head coach Antonio Conte’s men have what it takes to handle the daunting atmosphere that awaits them in Scotland. The former Czech Republic international played in the unforgettable Champions League confrontation with Celtic in October 2001 when Martin O’Neill’s men beat the Italians 4-3. Goals by Chris Sutton (2), Henrik Larsson and Joos Valgaeren were enough to see off the Italian giants who also had Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Edgar Davids in their line-up.

“I’m fully aware of the atmosphere that awaits us in Glasgow because I’ve been there and experienced it first hand,” explained Nedved at the weekend. “We’ll be stepping into a lion’s den and I don’t think the team will need geeing up.”

He added: “We are very satisfied with how the team approached the match. Fiorentina play a great style of football, they have a more than capable coach and a dangerous team. But we really wanted the three points and played well to get them. It was a great test of character and everyone worked towards the same goal.

“In January, we had a slight dip in form but you can’t be at the top of your game over the course of a whole season. Now we’re in form and ready for Europe.”

Vucinic was relatively unopposed as he rifled the ball home in the 20th minute but there was a touch of the bizarre about Matri’s effort four minutes before the break. Despite losing his right boot, the player still managed to expertly slot the ball past goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano to seal an easy win that leaves Fiorentina in sixth place.

“My boot fell off just before the goal because someone had trodden on the back of my foot,” the former Cagliari striker said. “I scored in my socks.”

Fiorentina manager Vincenzo Montella could have no complaints as La Viola failed to really threaten their hosts across 90 minutes. At the end of a third consecutive away defeat, he said: “Juve showed that they were superior. We always try to play a good game but we struggled a bit more than normal. Juve gave us a lot of trouble when we were trying to start moves. We will do better next time.”

Former Celtic midfielder Paul Lambert partnered current Parkhead manager Neil Lennon in the Celtic midfield for that 2001 confrontation with Juventus, and he is backing his ex-team-mate to guide the SPL champions to victory again this midweek.

“I know Lenny knows that it is a really tough game,” said the Aston Villa manager. “He is up against a hell of a side. But I certainly wouldn’t write Celtic off, that’s for sure. I know from experience that if Celtic can still be in the game after the first leg then you never know what could happen over in Juventus.

“Of course, the two games against Juventus back in 2001 were very special. We should not have been done over there actually. We were beaten by a dubious penalty. They scored in about the 145th minute. Then we went back to Parkhead and we beat them 4-3 in a great game. We got nine points in the group and normally that is enough to take you through. It never did but what a game that was. It was brilliant. These games are brilliant for Scottish football. You will get a lot of the Scottish-Italians going to that game. It will be a great occasion.”

Spanish referee Undiano Mallenco has been chosen to take charge of tomorrow night’s clash.

A World Cup, Champions League and Clasico regular, the 39-year-old is the youngest official ever to have taken charge of a match in La Liga.

The whistler has already controlled matches involving Porto, Arsenal and Manchester United in this season’s tournament, as well as overseeing the 1-1 draw between Croatia and Belgium in Scotland’s World Cup 2014 qualification group.

His last European outing involving Celtic came in 2005, as the Parkead side failed to overturn one of the most embarrassing results in their history. He was the man in the middle as Celtic defeated Artmedia Bratislava 4-0 at Parkhead, but Gordon Strachan’s side still crashed out of the second qualifying round due to a humiliating 5-0 defeat in Slovakia.

 

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