Juventus all but clinched their place in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League after a clinical display from the Italian champions earned them a 3-0 win over Celtic at Parkhead in Glasgow on Tuesday.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon surprised everyone before kickoff when he handed Efe Ambrose a starting place, despite the defender playing in Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations final win over Burkina Faso on Sunday.
However, the gamble went horribly wrong with the defender at fault for two of Juve’s deadly away goals.
Celtic got off to a nightmare start when Ambrose was caught out by the flight of Federico Peluso’s long ball in the third minute, allowing Alessandro Matri to get in behind him and fire the ball over the line, despite Kelvin Wilson’s desperate attempted clearance on the line.
The Hoops then showed the intensity they had produced to pick up a famous win over Barcelona in the group stages as they laid siege to the Juve goal, with Victor Wanyama and Kris Commons both testing Gianluigi Buffon with strikes, but the Italians weathered the storm and increased their lead in the 77th minute when Claudio Marchisio smashed a shot past Fraser Forster.
Mirko Vucinic finished low through Forster’s legs in the 83rd minute after Ambrose had been caught in possession by Marchisio as Juventus ended any remaining Celtic hopes.
“That’s the harsh reality of football at this level,” a clearly disappointed Lennon said.
“We didn’t obviously get off to a great start, but our reaction to the goal was fantastic and for 70 or 80 minutes we were the better side, but it wasn’t to be and the second goal burst the bubble a little bit,” he said. “When you make defensive mistakes at this level you get punished and that was the case tonight.”
Juventus coach Antonio Conte was delighted with how his side handled a hostile crowd.
“It was a difficult match and in this atmosphere, with Celtic playing with the intensity they did, we could have lost the match, but my players kept their heads and showed great maturity, and overall it was an excellent result for us,” Conte said.
However, things could have been different for the hosts.
Celtic had started brightly, but then a lapse of concentration from Ambrose allowed Matri to give Juve a third-minute lead. The hosts then rallied after the goal and Buffon had to be alert to stop a fiercely drilled Wanyama strike from long range.
The Scottish Premier League leaders continued to press forward and Commons was centimeters away from an audacious equalizer in the 28th minute when his overhead-kick from Mikael Lustig’s cross bounced just wide with Buffon beaten.
Ambrose missed a golden chance to atone for his lapse on the hour mark when Charlie Mulgrew’s cross from the left found him lurking in the box, but the Nigerian sent his weak header bouncing into the turf and straight to the grateful Buffon.
Juventus looked content to defend deep and hit Celtic on the counterattack, but they served the hosts a warning in the 66th minute when Vucinic connected perfectly with a cross from the left and Wilson brilliantly blocked his shot.
The hosts did not heed the warning, though, and Juventus grabbed a killer second with a well-worked goal.
Matri flicked a pass into the path of Marchisio, who cut inside Scott Brown and smashed a shot beyond Forster at his near post.
Ambrose had only arrived back in Glasgow from South Africa early on Tuesday morning, but the Celtic fans must have been wishing he had missed his flight when he was again at fault as the visitors landed a knockout blow.
Marchisio caught the defender in possession and played an excellent through ball to Vucinic, who clipped the ball through the legs of the helpless Forster.