DAVIE HAY: The long arm of the unlawful

ThE Spanish officials behind the goals at Celtic Park on Tuesday night seemed to be in town for nothing more than to sample a Glasgow tapas bar.

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Celtic striker Gary Hooper is caught in a tangle of arms as Juventus pair Stephan Lichstenier and Gigi Buffon take the laws to the limit
Celtic striker Gary Hooper is caught in a tangle of arms as Juventus pair Stephan Lichstenier and Gigi Buffon take the laws to the limit

What else was their purpose?

Let's call it the 'strong arm' tactics that were adopted at corners and set-pieces by Juventus, with the clashes between Gary Hooper and Stephan Lichtsteiner in particular coming into sharp focus throughout the game.

The Italian players will try that every time if they can get away with it. To me, it is the officials who are to blame for allowing it to go on.

Booking both players is the referee's way of trying to get out of it and claim that both players are at it – but that wasn't quite the case. In any other area of the park that is a foul.

On another night and with a different referee, Celtic might well have got a penalty and the entire complexion of the game would have changed.

If you are going to have officials standing behind the goal, what else is their purpose other than to point out such infringements to the referee?

It seems pointless to have them there if they are not prepared to intervene when they see any illegalities going on.

I'm sure there is still great disappointment about the result against Juventus but, over the piece, the club have acquitted themselves remarkably well in the toughest environment of all.

As it has been pointed out already, they were the only team to make the last 16 of the Champions League who had also had to endure the qualifying rounds.

You only have to look around at the resources of other clubs to see just how difficult it will always be for Celtic, or any Scottish club, to really compete once it gets to this stage.

The 3-0 defeat to Juve was never a fair reflection of the night. Losing the early goal was always going to be really difficult to come back from, but I actually though that Celtic played very well after that. Their passing was crisp and they tried to turn the game around and they kept their composure for long spells.

I thought they were excellent for an hour of the game but the Italians – as you would expect from a team who have a £100million worth of talent and who are Serie A champions – were strong and efficient.

However, it was how clinical Juve were that was the real difference between the two teams. Celtic were restricted to shots from distance that didn't hugely trouble a keeper like Gianluigi Buffon.

However, it was perhaps unfortunate that best chance of the night fell to Efe Ambrose who just wasn't at his best.

Neil Lennon took a big gamble on the Nigerian and it didn't come off. He will know that more than anyone. The manager would have thought long and hard about it before the game and he must have felt within himself that it was the right thing to do.

I have to say I was really surprised when I saw Ambrose's name on the team sheet but Neil obviously feels that his best partnership is with Kelvin Wilson and Ambrose.

Aside from the travelling, Efe hadn't been with the squad for well over a month and I also felt that Fraser Forster was a little bit rusty too after just coming back from injury. In that area of the park you really need to have players who are at the top of their game

But on the whole this year, this Celtic team have improved. They have excelled themselves to get this far in a tournament that is the most prestigious in club football.

As a manager, Lennon too has improved. He will feel that he has learned a lot from this season's campaign in the competition.

There is disappointment now, particularly since there is the hard task of going to Turin next month knowing that the tie is away from them. It is effectively an exercise in damage limitation and in simply trying to avoid a heavy aggregate defeat.

Just to get to the last 16 was an achievement in itself. For now, though, it is back to the SPL and the Scottish Cup and the possibility of winning a domestic double.

But the big challenge is to try and replicate it next season by getting into the group stage of the Champions League once again.

This season it has been the highlight of a campaign in which Celtic have never really been in a position to rue the loss of an Old Firm fixture because there has been so much excitement that has gone with the European games. They need that again next term.


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