After what was undoubtedly a fantastic and exciting run in the group stages of the Champions League, Juventus looks set to square off against Scottish giants Celtic in the first knockout round, with the first match of the series scheduled to be played on Tuesday February 12th at Celtic Park. While the draw proved kind to the Bianconeri who were able to successfully avoid potential encounters with teams such as Real Madrid, the showdown with The Bhoys is bound to be a cracking one.
Celtic is a team that does not need much of an introduction. Established in 1887, together with its historic Old Firm rivals Rangers, the Green and White are what immediately comes to mind when the topic is not only Scottish but also British football. Domestically, Celtic boasts no less than 43 Scottish League Championships, 35 Scottish Cups, and 14 Scottish League Cups. Impressive numbers comparable only to those of the Rangers.
The club’s contribution to European football is also remarkable: Celtic was the first British club to have won what was then known as the European Cup during its 1966-1967 edition. Captained by current Club Ambassador and absolute Celtic god Billy "Cesar" McNeill and propelled by the goals of fellow club legends Stevie Chalmers and Tommy Gemmell, the side nicknamed "Lisbon Lions" came from behind to defeat Helenio Herrera’s Inter team 2-1. From there, Celtic continued to have its say in Europe, finishing just short of repeating the glory of 1967 only three years later, falling to Feyenoord in extra time.
More recently the club made a historic run during the 2002-2003 edition of the Uefa Cup, once again losing out in heartbreaking fashion as they were consigned to a 3-2 extra time defeat against Jose Mourinho’s Porto. It was during this season that the "Bhoys From Seville" nickname came to prominence when referring to the team and its extraordinary and relentless travelling supporters. On the night of the Uefa Cup final, more than 80,000 Celtic fans were present in Seville, despite the Spanish stadium’s capacity being just over 57,000 and ticket prices reaching £500.
The 2012-2013 season has thus far been a tremendous one for Celtic. Domestically the club’s dominance is similar to that of Juventus, after 20 weeks, Celtic is first with 40 points, a 6-point lead on Inverness CT and Motherwell, both of which have played one more match. Manager Neil Lennon has the team playing good football on both sides of the pitch, with 39 goals for and 15 against the Hoops possess the second-best attack and the best defense of the Scottish league.
In the Champions League, after wiping the floor with Swedish title-holders Helsingborg with a 4-0 aggregate result in the Champions Route qualifying stages, Celtic fared well in a group that included Spartak Moscow and two teams the freshly eliminated, reigning champions of Chelsea had previously defeated on their way to their first Champions League title in 2011-2012: Benfica and Barcelona. Thanks to a dramatic, Georgios Samaras-inspired last minute 3-2 away win in Russia and a stunning 2-1 upset against Barcelona, the Scotts were able to not only secure a qualifying spot for the latter rounds but also earn the respect and attention of countless fans whose sole British football-related concern throughout the group stages was "Which team will successfully embarrass Roberto Mancini and his men this week?"
Despite not having a roster full of superstars, Celtic is a solid team possessing a number of players capable of causing Conte and his men trouble. Young Kenyan defensive midfielder/occasional center-back/brother of McDonald Mariga/Yaya Toure carbon-copy Victor Wanyama is arguably Celtic’s best player of this season so far. A tall, lanky, yet capable holding midfielder with a strong defensive game and an excellent ability for getting forward, Wanyama has proven a pleasant surprise for manager Neil Lennon and fans alike after making the switch from Belgian side Beerschot AC. Wanyama has scored 6 goals in 25 appearances. Full back Emilio Izaguirre and midfielder Charlie Mulgrew make up a good duo on the left side for Celtic, and they should make for a key battle on the pitch against Stephan Lichtsteiner and Mauricio Isla. Celtic’s attack is also not to be overlooked. Although at times he may resemble the Greek Amauri, Georgios Samaras is still a danger that will need to be addressed. He’s got height, strength, aerial ability and is capable of holding up play and bringing in teammates to play. British forwards Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper should also play an important role for Lennon against Juventus, Hooper especially, as the 24-year-old former Scunthorpe United star has contributed 8 goals during the 2012-2013 season.
There is still much more to learn about Celtic as a team, this is merely a short overview and there will be more in-depth coverage ahead of February’s match from us here at BWRAO. Until then, let us all enjoy ‘tis festive season of giving, spending time with family and stockings full of Pelusos. Just make sure you stay warm, -8 is cold, cold, cooold weather, regardless of which system you use!