Celtic vs. Juventus: Assessing the Hoops' Chances in Champions League Last 16

Paul Mullaney@@contepomi90Contributor IIDecember 20, 2012

Celtic vs. Juventus: Assessing the Hoops' Chances in Champions League Last 16

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    It doesn't really come much harder than that.

    Ahead of Thursday's draw for the last sixteen of the Champions League, Celtic knew that they would be in for a tough test regardless of who they were paired with. Finishing second in their group may have spared them from having to play Real Madrid, but the seven group winners who made up the list of Celtic's potential opponents looked formidable.

    And Juve were arguably the most challenging prospect among them.

    The thing is, Celtic have very little to lose. They will go into the tie as massive underdogs, with very little expected of them. As we have seen before, these are often ideal circumstances for Celtic when it comes to the Champions League. Yet at the same time, you just get the feeling that this time it might not be enough.

    At the moment though, all we can do is speculate. Let's look at the tie.

Previous Meetings

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    Celtic and Juventus have previously faced each other four times in the Champions League and European Cup, with the sides first drawn against each other in a knockout tie in 1981.

    A Murdo MacLeod goal was enough to give Celtic the victory in the first match at Parkhead, but in the return game in Turin they were unable to prevent Juventus from qualifying, going down 2-0.

    Twenty years later in 2001, on Celtic's first appearance in the group stage of the tournament, the sides were drawn together again with Juventus winning 3-2 in Turin (thanks to a hugely controversial penalty awarded to the Italians after Nicola Amoruso's dive) and Celtic winning the final game of the group stage in a 4-3 thriller at Celtic Park, admittedly after they had missed out on qualification.

Home Advantage?

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    Celtic and Juventus might not be particularly close when it comes to talent, ability or spending power but one thing they do have in common is the advantage they get when playing in front of their own fans.

    Celtic's home record in the Champions League is much vaunted but it is worth underlining again: They have only lost twice at Parkhead.

    Top sides have come to Glasgow only to find things a bit more difficult than they had expected. As the impressive results piled up, the mythos grew. Opposition sides might know what to expect when visiting Celtic Park, but it doesn't make the task any easier. Like others before them, Juventus won't necessarily fancy themselves to go out and get a result in such a heated atmosphere.

    Then again, it's hard to see Celtic going and getting anything in Turin. Juve have barely lost at home since moving to their new stadium. With the odds already stacked heavily against them, this only further complicates the task for Neil Lennon and his side.

A Resurgent Juventus

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    European football is poorer without a strong Juventus side, and the Champions League this season has already been made more interesting by the fact that they're back.

    Juve are perennial contenders, the kind of side that is able to win and progress in ties where they aren't fancied, by virtue of the fact that they are so hard to break down. As a result, they are very difficult to overcome.

    It might sound daft, but the Champions League draw just doesn't look the same without Juventus's name alongside the others. It doesn't quite feel right.

    Essentially they're a side who, when they're there, have a chance of going all the way. The tournament is better for having more sides capable of ending up as winners.

Players to Look out for

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    This tie might not feature quite as many absolute stars as some of the others, but there will still be some serious talent on show.

    Andrea Pirlo has been as good as any midfielder in Europe this past year, winning the Serie A title with Juventus in the spring and leading his Italy side to the final of the European Championships. His ability to control a game and "pull the strings" from a deep-lying position in midfield is unparalleled. Coupled with his prowess from set pieces, this makes him a player who is capable of winning matches singlehandedly.

    A midfield featuring Pirlo and the likes of Claudio Marchisio, Kwadwo Asamoah and Arturo Vidal has impressed in the Champions League this season. While some might argue that Juventus still lack a genuinely world-class striker, they remain dangerous up front. Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco regularly make it onto the scoresheet and Fabio Quagliarella has an impressive record with three goals in only 158 minutes in this year's competition.

    However, as has often been the case, much of Juve's success has been down to their strong, well-organised defence and having the evergreen Gianluigi Buffon in goal.

    This will be the basis for any success they are to have as the competition progresses.

Celtic's Strengths

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    Celtic have surprised many people in European football this season, not simply by their results but also by the manner in which they've played.

    Even in their defeats, Neil Lennon's side have displayed a maturity which previous Celtic sides lacked in the Champions League. They have proved themselves capable of making the necessary adjustments to adapt to European competition. They've been able to keep hold of the ball and maintain possession in vital situations. And, more importantly, when this hasn't been possible, they've defended terrifically well, closing down ferociously and leaving little space for opposition players to work in.

    Several players have also really stepped up their level of performance.

    Gary Hooper has shown he is capable of getting goals in the big games, scoring home and away against Spartak Moscow in the group stages. Victor Wanyama has proved himself as the sort of player who can dominate games in the centre of the park. And then there's Fraser Forster, who impressed in last season's Europa League and who has improved again this year. Forster has taken to the Champions League like a natural and has been arguably the competition's most impressive goalkeeper so far.