ITV Football tweeted a message shortly after the draw for the Champions League group stages was made. It read: ‘Bye Bye Celtic. They’ve drawn Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow.’
As Celtic prepare for their last 16 clash with Italian Serie A giants Juventus, it seems as though the Parkhead club took inspiration from this derisory and dismissive tweet. A famous 2-1 win over Barcelona in Glasgow, coupled with two wins over Spartak Moscow proved the SPL side’s staying power and made a mockery of their critics.
Celtic are currently top of Scotland’s top fight, but crashed out of the League Cup at the semi-final stages at the hands of St Mirren. The Parkhead side managed to hold onto star players Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper in January, and brought in backup for key positions including Israeli international defender Rami Gershon and Swedish ‘keeper Viktor Noring.
So what of Juventus? Three points clear of Napoli at the top of Serie A, ‘La Vecchia Signora’ qualified for this year’s Champions League by winning the Serie A title last season, remaining unbeaten for the entire year.
It marked the first time since the match-fixing scandal in Italy in 2006 that they had won the title. A win and a draw against Chelsea helped Juventus to a first-place finish in a tricky group, from which Shakhtar Donetsk also qualified.
Like Neil Lennon, Juventus boss Antonio Conte played for the club he now manages, and won the Champions League with the Turin side in 1996. He has just completed a four-month touchline ban for his role in a match-fixing scandal whilst manager of Siena.
Date: Wednesday 12 Feburary
Venue: Celtic Park, Glasgow
Where to watch: STV
Fraser Forster is set to return for Celtic, along with James Forrest. The latter has made cameo appearances from the bench in the past week or so, with the English goalkeeper pencilled in for a return to league action against Inverness CT this weekend. Georgios Samaras is still touch and go whilst Nigerian defender Efe Ambrose could miss out as Nigeria have made it to the final in the African Cup of Nations.
Conte cannot call on the services of long-term injured trio Nicklas Bendtner, Giorgio Chiellini or Simone Pepe, and will keep his fingers crossed over the fitness of Leonardo Bonucci, Mirko Vucinic, Claudio Marchisio and Kwadwo Asamoah, who all picked up knocks in recent matches.
Celtic and Juventus have met on four previous occasions, sharing two wins apiece. Celtic triumphed in Glasgow in 2001 (4-3) and 1981 (1-0) whilst Juventus won the return leg in 1981 2-0 and had won the first leg in 2001 3-2, meaning they progressed on the away goal rule.
Celtic to win - 7/2
Juventus to win - 4/5
Draw - 5/2
Without a doubt, Celtic will be looking to Fraser Forster - a key player in the group stages and responsible for keeping Barcelona at bay for nearly the whole match at Parkhead, being beaten by a Lionel Messi consolation - to marshall the defensive line and provide stability from the back. Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper will also be expected to live up to their reputations in both legs.
For Juventus, it could only be the midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo. The veteran pulls the strings in the Juventus engine room, and is able to conjure up magic out of nothing. The Turin side will also need a strong performance from Gigi Buffon between the sticks - still Europe’s most expensive goalkeeper after he transferred to Juventus from Parma for over £32 million.