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Feb 12, 2013

Juve clobbers Celtic in Champions 1st leg

Juventus punished poor defending with some clinical finishing to beat Celtic 3-0 in the first leg of their last-16 match in the Champions League on Tuesday, virtually sealing the Italian champions' place in the quarterfinals.

Mistakes by defender Efe Ambrose, who only returned from international duty at the African Nations Cup on the morning of the match, led to goals by Alessandro Matri in the third minute and Mirko Vucinic in the 83rd.

Claudio Marchisio had scored the second goal in the 77th at the end of a flowing team move by the current Serie A leaders, who rode their luck before inflicting Celtic's joint-heaviest home loss in European competition.

The score line was harsh on Celtic, which dominated the first half and most of the second, only to lack a cutting edge to beat Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

"We need a miracle but it's the harsh reality of Champions League football,'' Celtic manager Neil Lennon said.

The second leg is in Turin on March 6, when Juventus will look to finish the Scottish champions off and maintain its unbeaten run in this season's competition.

Celtic showed by beating Barcelona in the group stage that the team is a match for anyone at its intimidating Celtic Park home, and it posed Juventus all sorts of problems with its relentless work rate and high pressing game.

"It's a great result in a difficult stadium,'' Marchisio said. "We came here to score at least one goal and we scored three without conceding, so we are very happy.''

Even Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo, usually so composed and elegant in center midfield, was clearly ruffled at being hustled and harried but Celtic couldn't find the finish to go with its build-up play.

"The score line flatters Juventus,'' Lennon said. "For 70-odd minutes, we were by far the better side but you can't give away sloppy goals.''

Lennon may be regretting playing Ambrose on the day he landed in Scotland after more than a month away with Nigeria at the African Nations Cup. He played in the 1-0 victory over Burkino Faso in the final on Sunday but was rushed back for the biggest game in Celtic's recent history.

"We took a gamble on Efe Ambrose,'' Lennon acknowledged.

For the opener, Ambrose misjudged a routine ball forward to leave Matri clean though on goal. The striker poked a finish through goalkeeper Fraser Forster's legs and the ball crossed the line by the time Kelvin Wilson slid in to clear away.

Marchisio slammed the loose ball into the net for good measure - with the assistant referee yet to signal - but Matri was given the goal.

Ambrose then pondered too long on the ball before being robbed by Marchisio and he fed Vucinic, who slipped a low finish into the net. Ambrose hung his head in despair.

To make matters worse for Ambrose, he missed Celtic's best chance at the other end, heading tamely at Buffon in the second half when completely unmarked eight yards out

Celtic's response to conceding early had been very impressive, peppering Buffon's goal with shots throughout the first half.

Kris Commons had a handful of chances while Victor Wanyama headed over from a corner just before halftime, which Juve would have been relieved to reach without conceding.

The decibel levels remained high for the second half, as did Celtic's dominance - but still Buffon's goal wasn't breached.

Commons skied a shot over before Ambrose wasted his golden chance - and Juventus made them pay.

Marchisio ran onto Matri's slick through-ball, cutting inside and firing in a shot that Forster couldn't keep out to halt Celtic's momentum. And there was still time for Vucinic's goal to seal Ambrose's miserable night.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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