Celtic can profit from a low profile

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The Independent Football

Very few secrets can remain hidden away in the modern world of global football, which is perhaps what prompted Martin O'Neill not only to allow Giancarlo Corradini in to view Celtic's training session on Thursday, but also to invite the Juventus scout in for tea and biscuits afterwards.

The Italian club have been left in the dark about Celtic and must be hoping they do not stumble over them when the clubs meet on Tuesday in the delayed opening to Champions' League Group E.

Corradini had been dispatched to Glasgow by Marcello Lippi to assess O'Neill's side against Rosenborg on Wednesday night, but events in the United States rendered all of those plans meaningless.

Now Juventus are involved in a frantic race to learn as much as they can about the Scottish champions. Last season's Treble success at Parkhead will barely have registered in Italy, and for O'Neill the element of surprise could work in his favour in the Stadio Delle Alpi.

The Celtic manager would have preferred to kick off by banking three points at home against Rosenborg than being pitted against the team which reached three successive finals between 1996 and 1998 and spent £106 million on new recruits in the summer.

Yet going in blind may prove as much of a handicap for Italy's most glamorous club as it does for Celtic. As O'Neill knows only too well, Nottingham Forest's low profile was so successful that he was part of the team which lifted the European Cup twice, in 1979 and 1980, before the penny dropped. "When the draw was made, I was glad to have a home game first and the second at Juventus," said O'Neill on Friday. "Obviously what happened in New York prevented that. Although people say there is great pressure in going to Juventus, we want to go there and play as refreshingly as possible, in a similar sort of vein to the Ajax game. The whole idea of us trying to win the League and get into the Champions' League was to try and prove ourselves at this level.

"I don't want us to go out of the competition meekly and be living with regret, saying we could have been more positive. At the end of it I want us to have given ourselves every possibility of qualifying for the second stage, but I don't want us to hide away." Corradini's spy mission will have helped Juve fill in the blanks on Henrik Larsson and Co, though O'Neill revealed that the clubs in Group E have supplied each other with video tapes of their own games. O'Neill could simply have raided Channel 4's library. The sublime skills of Alessandro Del Piero have shone like a beacon for the bianconeri for several years, and though Zinedine Zidane departed for a world-record £47m to Real Madrid, the acquisition of defender Lilian Thuram and keeper Gianluigi Buffon from Parma, and Pavel Nedved from Lazio, have simply added further lustre.

"I think people might have looked at Zidane going and thought Juventus were going to go through a transition spell," reflected O'Neill. "But they are probably stronger now. People thought Man-chester United would go downhill when Eric Cantona left, and instead they took off."

O'Neill is hoping that Larsson, who remains largely unknown despite winning the European Golden Boot, can pierce the Juventus defence just as he did Italy's for Sweden at Euro 2000. "Henrik could play in Serie A without any doubt," he declared. "There are a few players who can change the game with a stroke of genius and he is one."

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