The Old Lady of Italian football — not to mention one or two of its old men — is long overdue a European trophy; and after Carlos Tevez inspired Juventus to a 2-1 Champions League semi-final first leg victory over Real Madrid there is a growing feeling that this could finally be their year.
Juve, one of the grandest names in world football, haven’t been crowned champions of Europe since 1996 when they beat Ajax in Rome; a run of under-achievement that includes a defeat to Real in the 1998 final in Amsterdam and not a single semi-final appearance between 2003 and 2014.
But right now the Turin club is on a high after Tevez set up an early goal for Alvaro Morata last night and then scored a second-half penalty in response to Cristiano Ronaldo’s equaliser.
The deserved result at the end of a high quality, pulsating game gives the Italian giants — including veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who has gone 25 years in football without winning a Champions League despite lifting every other trophy available — a tantalising chance to recreate former glories.
“Nobody expected us to get to this semi-final; it’s been 12 years,” said Juventus left-back Patrice Evra, who won the trophy with Manchester United and played alongside Tevez at Old Trafford. “But now let’s try go to the final. It was an important win for us but we are only half way there. I am pleased for Carlos Tevez — he is like myself, he’s United blood, he’s a champion. He’s working hard and is a really good professional. He’s had a fantastic year. I’m really pleased for him and now we want to win this Champions League.”
Midfielder Andrea Pirlo added: “It was a difficult game and we need to be completely focused during the return leg in Madrid.”
“We’ve sent out a message to the rest of Europe: we want to reach the Champions League final.”
The confidence of Juve’s latest charges was evident from the very start as they pressed Real high and took a 1-0 lead after nine minutes when Tevez’s shot was palmed straight to Morata at the far post.
It is hardly surprising that Juve play with belief. Last weekend Massimiliano Allegri’s side clinched yet another Serie A title — their fourth in a row — and they also face Lazio in the Coppa Italia Final this month.
The team is a fascinating combination of the vast experience of the likes of Buffon, Pirlo and Chiellini allied with the energy of Tevez and the rising talents of younger players such as Vidal, Morata and Pogba, the brilliant 22-year-old midfielder who was unavailable for this match because of a hamstring injury but who is expected to return for the second leg.
Backed by a passionate Turin crowd the early goal set the scene for a wonderful game, high on skill, adrenaline and attacking intent; and inevitably Ronaldo played a part. He equalised in the 27tH minute, heading home from point-blank range after James Rodriguez cleverly volleyed a cross to the far post.
It was the Portuguese’s 76th Champions League goal — a record — and his ninth in semi-final ties.
Real, in fact, could have gone ahead had Rodriguez not sent the ball crashing against the crossbar with a diving header from six yards minutes later when he really should have converted an excellent cross from Isco following a breathtaking move.
But with Real’s Gareth Bale almost anonymous Juventus recovered admirably, keeping their energy levels high and surging ahead when Tevez, through on goal but heading away from the target, was brought down by Carvajal, for a penalty that the former Manchester United man converted with glee.
The home side brought on Barzagli late on, switching to three at the back to preserve their lead, but almost grabbed a further goal in injury time when substitute Fernando Llorente should have done better with a free header at the far post.
That miss may yet prove crucial against a Real side who are under pressure to win the Champions League with Barcelona sitting above them in La Liga; but nevertheless there is a real belief at Juve they can finish the job.
A very Italian 0-0 in Madrid next week would do the trick.
Buffon, Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Evra, Marchisio, Pirlo, Sturaro (Barzagli 64), Vidal, Tevez (Pereyra 86), Morat (Llorente78)
Casillas, Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo, Pepe, Kroos, Isco (Hernandez 63), James, Bale, Ronaldo
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