Among the numerous one-on-one battles in Glasgow, as Celtic entertained Champions League betting favourites, Juventus, on Tuesday night, one stood out as maybe the most captivating midfield duel of the season.
While Gary Hooper and Stephan Lichtsteiner wrestled each other in the penalty area and Gigi Buffon handled Kris Commons’ long-range efforts with ease, in the middle of the park, Scott Brown and Andrea Pirlo, were going hell for leather.
Brown, the Hoops captain that leads by example, used Celtic Park’s atmosphere to his advantage. He looked focussed and energised in the tunnel before kick off and brought that passion onto the field – his instructions evidently to mark Pirlo out the game.
While Brown was positively frothing at the mouth, Pirlo looked his cool, calm self. He’s seen this all before: the crowd, the animosity, the occasion. He knew what would be coming his way and prepared for it as he has prepared for uncountable one-on-one battles over the years.
Early in the first half the bull and the matador collided, and it was the bull that got the first dig. Brown left Pirlo dispossessed after the Italian slipped and a minute later the pair clashed again, this time Pirlo almost losing his rag.
However, in the next play, Juve’s defenders passed into the centre to Pirlo. The bull charged head on, about to implant a challenge that would put his adversary out the game. Pirlo had other ideas, dropping a shoulder before turning away with the ball, the matador away and free as the bull fell to the ground.
That one deft move set the tone for the game, and, when Claudio Marchisio made it 2-0 late on, the Celtic beast died. Pundits on Betfair.com felt that the Hoops certainly deserved more for their troubles and they had plenty of chances to score, but that is the fate of the bull, and, as always in the bullring, the matador comes out on top.