Celtic riding high ahead of last-16 match

Last updated 07:19 12/02/2013

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After beating Barcelona in one of the biggest shocks of the group stage, the visit of Juventus holds no fears for Celtic ahead of their last-16 match in the Champions League.

AC Milan and Manchester United have also slipped to Champions League losses at the intimidating Celtic Park since 2006, so the Italian champions and current Serie A leaders have been warned.

"I think we have been (underestimated) throughout the whole campaign and going into this game we are being made out to be massive underdogs but I don't quite see it that way myself," Celtic manager Neil Lennon said.

"There is a real belief, anything can happen over two games...We have proved already this season that we can be a match for anyone."

Celtic relied on set pieces and counterattacks to not only beat Barcelona 2-1 at home - reducing pop star and loyal fan Rod Stewart to tears in the process - but also come within a stoppage-time goal from Jordi Alba of earning a draw at Camp Nou in group play.

The same pragmatic approach is likely to be utilised against Juventus, which is expected to dominate possession in both legs - especially with classy Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo recovered from a thigh strain that he sustained on international duty last week.

Juventus warmed up for the match with a 2-0 win over Fiorentina on Saturday, putting the team's league campaign back on track after struggling somewhat in January, and has been practising at the training complex of Celtic's fierce Glasgow rival, Rangers.

"We had a lapse a few weeks ago but we've bounced back great," defender Federico Peluso said. "That's our strength. Now we've got to face Celtic with the same spirit.

"We're aware of our strength. After all, if we've reached the last 16 of the Champions League, it's not by chance."

To get to the knockout stage, Juventus topped a tough group containing reigning champion Chelsea and Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk, one of the top emerging teams from eastern Europe. The Italians were one of four clubs to finish group play unbeaten.

However, they probably won't have come across an atmosphere quite like the one they will experience tomorrow.

Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez were two of the Barcelona players to have been taken aback about the noise levels coming from Celtic's supporters in the 60,000-seat stadium during the November 7 game.

"No words to describe the atmosphere at Celtic Park," Pique said on Twitter soon after the match. Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova added he "had never seen anything like it."

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Commons said the backing can't fail to help.

"Juventus are no mugs, it's not like they've never seen this sort of atmosphere before," he said. "They get paid incredible wages to deal with that and play in these arenas but the atmosphere gives us a lift and increases our game.

"I think that's why we are more than capable of beating the best teams in Europe - because of our fans."

Winger James Forrest was included in the Celtic squad despite missing the 3-1 league win over Inverness on Saturday with a hamstring injury, but defender Efe Ambrose is unlikely to start after appearing for Nigeria in the African Nations Cup final on Sunday.

Greece striker Georgios Samaras is battling to recover from a hamstring injury and left back Emilio Izaguirre has recovered from a knee injury.

Kwadwo Asamoah has also been playing in that tournament for Ghana, taking part in the bronze-medal match against Mali on Saturday, but could feature for Juventus on Tuesday as he is flying directly from Johannesburg via London to Scotland.

Fullback Paolo De Ceglie is out with a right thigh muscle injury.

- AP

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