What a campaign, let's do it all over again

Posted by Andrew Muirhead

Adam Matthews tussles with Federico Peluso GettyImagesCeltic's Adam Matthews tussles with Juventus midfielder Federico Peluso

When the final whistle blew at the end of the first leg at Celtic Park, signalling a 3-0 victory for Juventus, the widely held belief was that the tie was over with only pride to play for. Wednesday night did indeed signal the end of Celtic's Champions League campaign and what a campaign it was.

- Rzouki: Changed Juve do enough to ease through
- Lennon: Juventus a class above


Before the match there was faint optimism from some Celtic supporters with regards to a Liverpool style comeback (against AC Milan in Istanbul) and the first goal was all important. Sadly for Celtic it was Juventus who bagged the goal and with it any glimmer of hope of progressing was extinguished. The Italians finally running out 2-0 winners in Turin.

Juventus had all but qualified after the first leg and Wednesday night's game was nothing more than Celtic trying to keep face and show certain critics that they were no joke.

After the first leg, plenty of so-called pundits came out and rubbished Celtic, their achievements and the Scottish Premier League. A team that beat Spartak Moscow home and away, a team that nearly took a share of the spoils in Barcelona up until the final kick of the game, a team that beat Barca and a team that reached the last 16 of the Champions League.

With the only remaining British club in the Champions League, Arsenal, soon to be knocked out also - Celtic reached the same level of Europe's elite as Manchester United and the Gunners and further than cash-rich Chelsea and Manchester City - the two English sides flopped big time.

Compare and contrast the clubs in the so-called best league in the world to that of Celtic: Looking at the disclosed transfer fees on Soccerbase, Arsenal spent £47.5 million this season, Manchester City spent £34 million, Manchester United spent £12 million and Chelsea spent £54.5 million. Celtic spent £2.9 million. And that is even before going through each squad and pricing them all up.

As Neil Lennon said before the match, his charges "have excelled, absolutely excelled, and they have done the club and Scotland proud." He also commented: "If we do go out, we want to go out on our shield."

Someone has been watching The 300 Spartans. Very apt when looking back on the game really, as Celtic's quest for qualification past Serie A giants Juventus was much like the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae against a million Persians. Near on impossible and so it proved.

Speaking after the match Georgios Samaras said: "...it was a great experience for all the lads. We're a young team with a lot of talent, and that's an experience we'll learn from. I think it was a great journey for everyone in the club, the players, the coaches, staff and supporters. They've enjoyed it from the first second to the last. Next year hopefully we'll be back in the Champions League."

The first half was just as Celtic left off in the first leg at Celtic Park, taking the game to Juventus as the Italians sat back and soaked up the pressure. Celtic played attacking football, while Juve played on the counter and as per the first leg it was such a counter-attack, coupled with Celtic losing possession in a dangerous area, that saw Juventus score their first of the night and fourth over the two games - a goal that hammered the final nail in the coffin that was Celtic's European campaign.

Celtic had their chances, but they were either off target or straight down the throat of Buffon. And when it looked as though Celtic would score through a deflected Kris Commons strike, Buffon pulled off a wonder save proving once again what a top quality keeper he is.

There were no controversial moments this time round as Juventus ran out 2-0 winners on the night and 5-0 winners on aggregate. While Celtic's rivals may mock and laugh at the result, the campaign overall saw Celtic raise well over £20 million in revenue, reached a worldwide audience when they beat Barcelona and for the third time reached the last 16 of the Champions League.

Celtic will be in the hat for the Champions League qualifiers next season, as they are running away with the Scottish Premier League title, but it will be tough for the club to reach the group stages. But Celtic's young team have gained valuable experience this term and that will prove invaluable for another assault on Europe next term.

Europe your boys took one hell of a beating and it was good while it lasted.

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