Neil Lennon knew his team needed a miracle. Coming into today’s match after a 3-0 at Parkhead, the Celtic boss hoped his team could pull off an upset. Maybe a 2-1 or 1-0 win in Turin. You know: Something to be proud of on the long win back to Scotland.
But Celtic were never really that close. Two goals off rebounds gave Juventus a 2-0 victory, sending Italy’s champions through to the Champions League quarterfinals after a 5-0 aggregate result.
The final score may exaggerate the gap between the two teams, particularly after a day when Celtic and Juve played a relatively even match. Of course, a number of teams come out of matches with Juventus feeling they could have done more, but the scoreboard always sets them straight.
Perhaps Wednesday as a good example. Drop in on the match at any given point and the game seemed relatively equal. Juventus’s superior quality was obvious, particularly in midfield, but the disparity wasn’t so great that Celtic couldn’t find a way to break through. One team was obviously better, but 5-0 over two legs better?
But that’s the crux of Juve’s deception. Other teams don’t seem to execute against them when it counts while precise, finite execution from Juventus leaves teams with a series of what ifs. What if we had just stopped them in that one moment.
Wednesday’s first moment came in the 14th minute when Federico Peluso took the ball off Gary Hooper’s feet. The Juve wingback fed Fabio Quagliarella, whose shot was spilled in the box by Frazier Forrester. Alessandro Matri’s clean up act put Juventus up four.
Early in the second half, an exquisite ball over the defense from Andrea Pirlo allowed Arturo Vidal to draw Forester out before putting the ball back across goal for Quagliarella. An open goal allowed the Juve striker to put his team up 5-0.
Celtic had their moments, at one time forcings a lunging save from Gianluigi Buffon to save Hooper’s deflection of a long Kris Commons shot. But the execution just wasn’t there. Juventus converted on two of their three or four moments of brilliant. Celtic never got close.
In the bigger picture, Celtic were never supposed to get this close to begin with. In the face of ever-dwindling Scottish league results in Europe, Celtic were expected to be the next in a line of valiant but lacking SPL champions. Instead, they bested Benfica and Spartak Moscow to make the knockout round, and while they were never close to moving past Juve, they were never as bad as the final score hints. Celtic made a lot of us look stupid.
Because a lot of people will still underestimate Celtic, Juventus’s quality will be dismissed, particularly because it wasn’t accompanied by the kind of smothering dominance we’re seeing from Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund. And the quality of their opponent was nowhere near that of Real Madrid’s.
But in the result we see almost a stereotypical Italian trait, the robust quality to match up against anybody. In a one-off, Juventus can match up with the kings of Europe, and before this competition is out, they may prove capable of wearing the crown themselves.
Are they favorites to win Champions League? No, they shouldn’t be. But nobody wants to draw them in the next round.