Juventus silences Celtic's rowdy audience, Zlatan red carded
The Champions League returned to action Tuesday and despite two early goals scored by the away teams, both matches were compelling encounters. The games threw up some unlikely heroes and, as always, plenty of talking points. Here are a few:
Marchisio breaks Celtic hearts: Celtic coach Neil Lennon said pre-match that his side did not play old-fashioned kick and rush football, and that much was true. In fact, it was Juventus who played the first long ball of the night, Andrea Pirlo's third-minute pass from deep catching Efe Ambrose half-asleep and allowing Alessandro Matri to slot the ball past Fraser Forster. The referees' assistant failed to spot that the ball had crossed the line before Kelvin Wilson's clearance - that was refereeing issue number one - so it was just as well for the Italians that Claudio Marchisio followed up the chance and smashed the ball home. Matri was later awarded the goal.
Celtic responded by peppering Gigi Buffon's goal from distance, and the goalkeeper had to be alert to efforts from Victor Wanyama and Kris Commons, both of whom were outstanding. The home side was convinced it deserved one, maybe two, penalties as Stephan Lichsteiner and Gary Hooper repeatedly jostled each other in the six-yard box. "Referee, you have to see it!" Lennon shouted at the Spanish official Alberto Undiano Mallenco as the teams went off for halftime. This was refereeing issue number two: though Mallenco did book Lichsteiner and Hooper, the pair did not stop shoving each other before Celtic's corners came in.
Celtic continued to dominate the tempo in the first hour, but created fewer chances after the break. The best fell to Ambrose, possibly the only player not at 100 per cent, and his header, unmarked from eight yards out, went straight to a grateful Buffon.
Ambrose had played in the African Cup of Nations final for Nigeria on Sunday afternoon in Johannesburg: 48 hours after the biggest game of his life, he was playing in his second biggest in Glasgow. Had Lennon made a mistake in picking him? He would say not, but it was interesting that Juventus chose not to start with Kwadwo Asamoah, who played for Ghana in the third-place play-off on Saturday.
Just as Celtic started to tire, Juventus doubled its lead on the break, Matri dropping deep and with a delicate touch, allowing Marchisio to run into space, turn inside his marker and beat Forster at the near post. The goal took the wind out of Celtic sails: suddenly the players legs looked heavier and it was little surprise when Ambrose - again - was dispossessed in his own half, Marchisio releasing Mirko Vucinic for the goal that finally quieted the passionate home support.
Celtic may have been the better side for the first hour, it may have created more chances, and with another referee, might have been awarded a penalty. Juventus will simply point to the score-line: it put on a master-class of how to play away from home in Europe, and the 3-0 score-line should ensure its place in the quarter-final.
Seeing Red: What is it with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Champions League knock-out rounds? The Swede was red-carded for a needless tackle on Andres Guardado in injury-time and will be suspended for the return leg in three weeks. PSG, eventual 2-1 winners, should have been out of sight by then: it was 2-0 up and cruising at half-time, had a goal (harshly) disallowed in the second half and saw off Valencia's revival until Adil Rami pulled one back from close range with one minute left on the clock.
Maybe the Rami goal frustrated Ibrahimovic but the fact remains: PSG's talisman has a rotten record in the knockout rounds and it will be his late misdemeanor that will dominate headlines. Historically, Ibrahimovic struggles in February (his two goals this month equal his best tally for the last six years) and his record of four knock-out goals out of his 31 European strikes, a ratio of 13%, lags behind Europe's elite: Wayne Rooney 52% (14 knock-out goals out of 27), Lionel Messi 46% (25/56), Cristiano Ronaldo 45% (20/44), Didier Drogba 33% (13/39), and Robin van Persie 24% (5/21).
The pity of Ibra's error -- and that of Marco Verratti, the young midfielder whose yellow card also rules him out of the second leg -- is that it will detract from the outstanding performance of the tie: that of Lucas Moura, who in the first half showed what €40m can buy you.
The PSG goals were scored by two Argentines -- Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore -- but Moura was the star man. Lavezzi continued his run of form in the Champions League, becoming the first PSG player since George Weah to score in three successive games in the competition, by opening the scoring with a smart shot that went in past goalkeeper Vincente Guaita's near post.
Valencia recovered after that but for all their possession (63% in the first half), the danger of Moura was ever-present: first he rattled the post with a shot from 25 yards out, then he made two lung-busting runs from inside his own half to the edge of the opposition area, turning defense into attack within seconds. Just before half-time, he jinxed between two defenders, laid the ball back to Pastore to double the visitors' lead.
Before the game, the French press were questioning whether Moura would be better used playing just behind Ibrahimovic in a more central, number ten role: on this showing, allowing his pace to terrorize defenders from wide is the perfect tactic, especially away from home. He was taken off after 55 minutes, as Carlo Ancelotti looked to close out the game. That did not quite happen: while PSG ended the game poorly, it still has the clear advantage going into the return tie.