MILAN, Italy, March 7 – Strikes in either half from Alessandro Matri and Fabio Quagliarella earned Juventus a comfortable 2-0 win over Celtic in their Champions League last 16 second leg and a place in the quarter finals for the first time in seven years Wednesday.
Trailing 3-0 from a disastrous first leg at Celtic Park last month, the Scottish champions were left needing a “minor miracle”, in the words of manager Neil Lennon, if they were to cause a huge upset at Juventus Stadium.
But despite a positive Celtic performance and several clear-cut chances in the opening half, the Hoops never posed a real threat to the Italian champions, who will now relish a first appearance in the last eight since their exit to Arsenal in 2006.
With Juventus keeping a clean sheet in their past five Champions League games at home, it was no surprise Lennon called the stadium a “fortress”.
“The difference is the quality in the final third,” said the Celtic coach.
“We had good chances again and we didn’t take them. We played some decent football but we missed some really good chances to score or at least get back into the game.
“Quality counts, and that’s what makes the differece between the two teams.”
Despite the gulf in budget between the sides, Juve coach Antonio Conte said he had not underestimated Celtic’s potential.
“You can’t forget Celtic qualified from their group with 10 points, they beat some big teams like Spartak Moscow, Barcelona and Benfica so we shouldn’t underestimate them,” said the Italian.
“Celtic have a great team and we had to be careful tonight. But now we’ve achieved the dream of making the quarters. For me it’s first time as a coach and it’s the same for many of my players.”
Celtic created the first real chance on 22 minutes when Kris Commons found Joe Ledley in space but the midfielder’s shot was wide.
Two minutes later Federico Peluso robbed striker Gary Hooper and fed striker Quagliarella to the left of goal. When Fraser Forster failed to hold the Italian’s shot, Matri ran in to sweep the ball home for the opener.
Minutes later Juve were indebted to Gianluigi Buffon’s reflexes after the ‘keeper dived to palm away a Commons shot which had deflected off Hooper’s boot.
At the other end Arturo Vidal first-timed Quagliarella’s crossfield ball over the bar despite having time to control and shoot.
Celtic were pouring forward at every possible opportunity but Hooper missed the chance of the match for the visitors when he failed to toe-poke Georgios Samaras’s shot across goal past a beaten Buffon.
Lennon replaced right-back Adam Matthews with Efe Ambrose — blamed for two of Juve’s first leg goals — at half-time, but it was Juve who moved up a gear.
On 49 minutes Celtic’s defence was static when a Paul Pogba through ball to Matri was laid off for Quagliarella, whose shot was well saved by Forster.
At the other end, Samaras’s probing header from the back post back into the area found no takers and then an Ambrose header from a corner bounced down and over the bar.
When Juve’s second goal came, it exposed Celtic’s defence all too easily.
A long ball from midfield was flighted in for Vidal, who sneaked in behind Emilio Izaguirre to collect and square for the unmarked Quagliarella to slot home past Forster at the back post.
In a rare slip, Pogba lost possession to Commons on 72 minutes but the forward’s strike was blocked.
Seven minutes from time Samaras had time and space to pick his spot after Ledley’s lay-off, but the Greek sent a rising shot over bar.
Juve almost made it 3-0 in the final minutes only for Quagliarella to send a spectacular bicycle kick shot just wide of Forster’s upright.