Lennon relishing Juve return

Lennon relishing Juve return

Celtic manager Neil Lennon savoured the prospect of another two classic encounters against Juventus after being paired with the Italian champions and Serie A leaders in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Lennon was a Celtic player when the teams last met, in the 2001-02 group stages, in dramatic circumstances.

Celtic came from two goals down in Turin, thanks to strikes from Stiliyan Petrov and Henrik Larsson, only to lose 3-2 after Nicola Amoruso dived to win a dubious late penalty, which saw manager Martin O’Neill sent to the stand for his protests.

Celtic, inspired by Slovakian playmaker Lubo Moravcik, gained revenge with a 4-3 victory at Parkhead in the final group game with Chris Sutton hitting a double, but it was not enough to see them into the last 16.

Lennon would settle for similar controversy and action when the teams lock horns next year – if there is a different outcome.

“I remember them very vividly,” Lennon said. “The game in Turin was our first game under Martin in the Champions League proper.

“We didn‘t play well in the first half and were 2-0 down to two Trezeguet goals.

“The second half we played brilliantly and got it back to 2-2 and looked easily like we were going to go and win it or at least get a point, and then we got done by a shocking, as Martin put it, and it was shocking, penalty decision.

“And that really set the tone for away performances in the Champions League for quite a while.

“The 4-3 game was probably one of the highlights of my career. A packed house, Del Piero, Trezeguet, Nedved, in the all-black outfit. They looked the part.

“Didier Agathe playing fantastically well, Lubo on fire, Sutty and Henrik up front, 4-3, just one of the great European nights.

“I hope we get two more exactly the same – goals, controversy, action. And I hope it goes our way.”

Lennon had previously admitted he wanted to avoid Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United in the draw but he sees little difference in quality between those two teams and Antonio Conte’s side, who helped knock out holders Chelsea.

Juve went through last season unbeaten in Serie A and currently sit seven points clear.

“They topped the group with Chelsea,” Lennon said. “They beat Chelsea 3-0 and not many teams do that.

“I don’t know how long they went unbeaten in the league.

“I know they didn’t have the manager with them for quite a while but he is back now. He has done a wonderful job there.

“They have been very consistent in Serie A. They are easily the best team in Italy at the moment and they are formidable opponents.

“But over two games, who knows? And who knows where we will be in six or seven weeks time?

“I don‘t know who will be available to me, I don‘t know who Conte will have available, but we will really relish the two games.”

Whoever Conte has at his disposal, Juventus will have a number of Italian internationals including seven of the squad that reached the Euro 2012 final - goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who played in 2001, defenders Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and midfielders Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Emanuele Giaccherini.

Lennon said: “Obviously the jewel in the crown would be Pirlo. He is a fantastic player and had a fantastic tournament.

“I played against him myself back in 2007. He was a wonderful player then and he just seems to have matured and got better, even since then.

“You talk about experience, they are littered with experienced, world-class players.”

Lennon claimed he rarely got excited these days, a statement in contrast to his touchline demeanour when celebrating goals in the win against Barcelona, and his inability to watch the Kris Commons penalty that sent them through against Spartak Moscow.

But he had no qualms with admitting how much he was looking forward to the ties, which take place at Parkhead on February 12 and the new Juventus Stadium on March 6.

“I don’t get excited very often these days but I was very excited today and very pleased with the draw, just for pure footballing reasons more than anything else,” he said.

“You don’t really grasp it until you actually sit down and watch it. It‘s brilliant for the club‘s reputation.

“I‘m delighted for the board, for all the work they have put in over the last few years, and I don‘t want it to stop.

“We don’t want this to end. It could end, but not without a fight.

“We will give Juventus as much as we can over the two games.”

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