“Shocking, shocking!”, Martin O’Neil could hardly hide his fury when interviewed minutes after his Celtic side lost out to a late penalty controversially awarded against his troops in their Champions League opener at Juventus in September 2001.
Celtic had produced an impressive display in the Stadio Deli Alpi coming close to earning a fantastic 2-2 draw only for their dream to turn into a nightmare after Joos Valgaeren was harshly adjudged to have fouled Nicola Amoruso and a spot kick was awarded and the Celts were sunk.
Two months later Celtic Park was rocking with revenge in the air and a memorable 4-3 victory was secured for the Scottish champions although it was to be in vain as qualification for the knock out stages was to be denied to them.
Now eleven years on the combined hands of UEFA General Secretary Gianni Intafino and Steve McManaman have presented Neil Lennon with the unenviable task of tackling the Old Lady again in the Round of 16 of this seasons Champions League.
It’s a mouthwatering tie which will keep the minds of the Celtic faithful occupied for the next couple of months and also give Lennon plenty of time to work out a strategy which would see the Hoops progress to the Quarter-Finals.
The Celtic gaffer has already shown excellent tactical acumen after leading his charges to this stage of the competition which included giving Barcelona a huge scare in the Nou Camp and of course masterminding that unforgettable win against the Catalans at Celtic Park.
Most pundits are of the opinion that in earning qualification to the last sixteen the Glasgow club have exceeded expectations which may indeed be true but those who feel Lennon will just treat these two matches with the Serie A giants as a bonus underestimate the desire Neil Lennon has; make no mistake the Northern Irishman will be eyeing up another notable feather in his cap by getting the better of his opposite number Antonio Conte.
To do so it will be almost certainly likely that a win is produced in the first leg, something which cannot be deemed as fantasy – Celtic have a tremendous record of achieving notable European victories on their home turf against some of the continents major superpowers in recent years.
Taking the scalps of AC Milan, Manchester United and of course Barcelona surely must give the Celts respect in the eyes of their more illustrious Scudetto winning opponents though the challenge of stopping Pirlo & Co. is certainly a daunting one.
The Turin club currently sit proudly top of their domestic championship and while the standard of player attracted to Italy in recent years has dropped, Juve will unquestionably be a tough nut to crack especially with the undoubted quality littered in their ranks.
Gianluigi Buffon has been one of the world’s top goalkeepers in the last ten years and in front of him Gary Hooper will have his work cut out trying to find space in behind the likes of internationalists Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
In the midfield Andrea Pirlo has silenced those who felt his better days were behind him after swapping Milan for Turin and as we all witnessed in Euro 2012 the experienced campaigner is still one of the best play-makers in today’s game.
And in attack Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco have shown in this season’s competition that they can be deadly when presented with goalscoring opportunities.
Juve should get the better over the two legs but don’t rule out Celtic giving them a bloody nose in the opening tie.
It’s never nice to read of an Old Lady being hurt but for the Celtic supporters the thought of landing another blow on one of the games biggest names will warm the cockles of their hearts over the winter months.