Juventus had a game plan ahead of their Champions League last 16 first leg tie against Celtic at Celtic Park. It was; do not lose and do not concede from a corner, by whatever means necessary. The Italian side seemingly manhandled the Celtic players at times, most notably inside the box at set pieces. Did celtic deserve a penalty – or two – was the referee turning a blind eye, or was it a case of tit for tat?
By Anthony Horan – @AntonH79
Italian and defending. The two words sit so well together in a football sense. For years the boys from Italy have been dishing out a lesson on how to keep the ball out of their own net with tough tackling, magnificent aerial ability and no lack of passion and commitment.
There is, of course, another aspect to the Italian defensive game which further aids their ability to secure a clean sheet: the rugby tackle. Or, in some cases, it’s more akin to an over zealous cuddle. You get my drift anyway. This story, you will have already guessed, has been born as a result of the Champions League last 16 tie between Celtic and Juventus at Celtic Park and the rather untidy, yet admittedly effective, marking by the Bianconeri players at Celtic set pieces.
Neil Lennon has not shied away from claiming the referee favoured the Italian champions on a night of high emotion inside a highly charged Parkhead on Tuesday night. His claims have been well supported by many football fans in the UK and no little amount of sports journalists. His claims, however, are also likely to land him in hot water with UEFA who tend to frown upon such accusations of partisan officiating.
Is Lennon right? Well, perhaps some of his comments are borne out of frustration following a most undeserved 3-0 defeat at the hands of Italy’s old lady. But, he is also correct to raise this issue of over-exuberant Italian defending as it has, for many years, been a consistent problem in the game. Provided it is within the rules, nobody can have any complaints about such defensive tactics but I’m afraid there is nothing in the rule book that allows for defending the likes of which we witnessed being handed out to Celtic’s Gary Hooper on Tuesday evening; at one point the Celtic striker was thrown to the ground inside the Juventus six yard box. Indeed, this followed hot on the heels of another similar incident where both Hooper and Juventus defender Stephan Lichsteiner were both booked because the latter decided to give the former a big juicy bear hug while they waited for a Celtic corner. The Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was also guilty of some horseplay at this juncture.
The jiggery pokery in and around the Juventus penalty box continued throughout the game and Celtic were found complaining to the Spanish official on a number of occasions. The referee was reluctant to pay heed to the Celtic calls and his inactivity seemed to suggest that he felt the alleged infringements weren’t worthy of note. The same could be said for his assistants running the line and the redundant and pitiful gentlemen who now stand along the by-line in grandiose tournaments such as the Champions League. I still fail to see their value, especially following this game where a considerable amount of nonsense in the box should have resulted in a penalty for the home side on at least one occasion.
Celtic’s frustrations aside, is this rugby-esque Italian defending just getting a bit too silly? Shouldn’t referees be giving penalties to opposition teams in an effort to remove this element from the game? These are questions that will undoubtedly result in passionate debate. Some will say that football is a contact sport and many attacking players are just as guilty as defenders of grappling with opposition players in the box. Others will say that it’s a step too far and that such tactics should be met with the award of a penalty or free kick.
It’s certainly fair to say that much of the shirt pulling and general man-handling by the Juventus players on Tuesday night would have resulted in a free-kick had it been committed outside the box. It would be naïve to suggest otherwise. Given that this is the case I find it very difficult to argue that such behaviour should not then result in a penalty when it occurs in the box. It would seem both obvious and sensible.
Mixed opinion regarding the defensive tactics displayed by Juventus on Tuesday night. Was it a case of both players bumping into one another and grappling for position – something we see regularly in football – or was it defending more associated with American football? Tweet us your thoughts @talkingbaws or comment below.