By James Agberebi:
Nobody in their wildest dreams would have predicted that an Italian team would make it to the final of this season’s UEFA Champions League. But that is what is upon us as Barcelona will have their hands full against the Old Lady of Italian football, Juventus.
With Real Madrid finally achieving La Decima last season, it was generally believed that Los Merengues would go on to become the first team to win the prestigious title back-to-back, since AC Milan did it in 1989 and 1990.
Aside from Madrid, there was talk about how Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side had what it took to claim a sixth title after achieving the feat two seasons ago. Also, the likes of Paris Saint Germaine, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid were tipped as teams who could go all the way, with only a handful giving teams from Serie A a chance. But alas, the Old Lady proved everyone wrong.
After being stripped of the Serie A title in 2006 and demoted to Serie B, Juventus seem to have reclaimed their place among the elite since returning, as they have not only dominated Serie A, but made their presence felt in Europe. With only two Champions League titles to their name (1985 and 1996), Juventus’ quest of adding a third seems a tall order as they will come up against a rampaging Barcelona side that parades the fearsome trio of Lionel Messi (58 goals), Neymar (38) and Luiz Suarez (24), who have accounted for 120 of Barcelona’s goals this season. But coach Massimiliano Allegri, skipper Gianluigi Buffon and defender Leonardo Bonucci, despite acknowledging the threat the trio possesses, all stated that they will be ready for them.
And knowing Italian teams when it comes to surprises, here are six facts why Juventus could upset the apple cart and become champions of Europe for the third time.
AC MILAN 4-0 BARCELONA, 1994 UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL:
Barcelona were favourites to win the 1993/1994 UEFA Champions League title, having just won La Liga for the fourth year in a row. And in their squad was an array of talents such as Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Pep Guardiola, Ronald Koeman and Andoni Zubizareta.
On their part, Milan’s preparation before the final was in disarray: legendary striker Marco van Basten was still out with a long-term injury, and £13 million young sensation Gianluigi Lentini (then the world’s most expensive footballer) was also injured; sweeper and captain, Franco Baresi was suspended, as was defender Alessandro Costacurta; and UEFA regulations at the time that limited teams to fielding a maximum of three non-nationals meant that coach Fabio Capello was forced to leave out Florin Răducioiu, Jean-Pierre Papin and Brian Laudrup. But goals from Daniel Massaro (brace), Dejan Savicevic and Marcel Desailly saw AC Milan pummel Barcelona 4-0.
JUVENTUS’ EXPERIENCE HEADS
Known for their penchant for experienced hands, Barcelona will come up against a Juventus side that parades players who have seen it all at the biggest stage. With players like Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Patrice Evra – players who have either won the Champions League, World Cup, Scuddeto, Coppa Italia, in their ranks – the final promises to be one hell of a contest just like Real Madrid found out in the semi-final.
EQUALLING INTER MILAN 2010 TREBLE WINNING FEAT
If there is one feat Juventus would like to achieve, it is to become the second Italian club ever to win a treble after Inter did it in the 2009/2010 season. Under Jose Mourinho, Inter had the greatest season in their history completing a historic treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia & UEFA Champions League, becoming the sixth European club to complete the treble and the 1st Italian club to achieve this feat. And one of the teams who were swept aside by Inter that season was a Pep Guardiola-led Barcelona team in the semi-final.
BID TO PLACE THE ITALIAN SERIE A BACK AMONG THE BIG LEAGUES
After Inter’s remarkable achievement in the 2009/2010 season, Italian teams’ performances in the lucrative Champions League was nothing to write about. For four straight seasons (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014), no Italian team made it to the semi-final. It got so bad for the Serie A that their four slots for the Champions League was reduced to three. But all that could change following Juventus great run to the final of this season’s edition. And victory against Barcelona, could go a long way in making a statement that the Serie A still has what it takes to compete with Europe’s best.
BARCELONA 1-2 JUVENTUS (NOU CAMP) 2003 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINAL CLASH
It was the 2003 UEFA Champions League second leg quarter-final clash at the Nou Camp between Barcelona and Juventus. The first leg had ended 1-1 in Turin. Barcelona’s first 11 (goalkeeper)Roberto Bonano (defenders) Michael Reiziger, Carles Puyol, Patrik Andersson, Frank de Boer (midfielders) Marc Overmars, Xavi Hernandez, Thiago Motta, Lius Enrique (forwards) Javier Saviola, Patrick Kluivert.
Juventus first 11 (goalkeeper) Gianluigi Buffon (defenders) Gianluca Zambrotta, Lilian Thuram, Ciro Ferrara, Paolo Montero (midfielders)Alessio Tacchinardi, Edgar Davids, Mauro Camoranesi, Pavel Nedved (forwards)Marco Di Vaio, Alessandro Del Piero.
Pavel Nedved put Juventus ahead on 53 minutes but Xavi drew Barcelona level in the 66th minute. Edgar Davids got sent off 11 minutes to go but Juventus held on for extra-time. Then with six minutes remaining for the game to go into penalty shootout, substitute Marcelo Zalayeta scored to send Juventus into the semi-final.
ITALIAN TEAMS’ HABIT OF THRIVING IN ADVERSITY
It seems Italian football just can’t rid itself of scandals most notably match-fixing. But one surprising thing is that despite this setback, Italian teams always find a way of shutting everyone up by letting their football do the talking on the pitch.
Totonero 1980 or Totonero was a scandal of match fixing in Italy in 1980 in Italian Serie A and Serie B. It was uncovered on 23 March 1980. The principal protagonists in this scandal were Milan, Lazio, Perugia, Bologna, Avellino (Serie A), Taranto and Palermo (Serie B). And most notable in this scandal was Paolo Rossi who was suspended for three years (reduced to two on appeal). Italy went on to win the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain with Rossi emerging top scorer with six goals.
The 2006 Italian football scandal involved Italy’s top professional football leagues, Serie A and Serie B. The scandal was uncovered in May 2006 by Italian police, implicating league champions Juventus, and other major teams including AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Reggina. But Italy were crowned World Champions that same year in Germany.
And in 2007, AC Milan went on to win the UEFA Champions League, beating Liverpool 2-1 in the final.
And just this year, an anti-Mafia inquiry unearthed evidence of a match-fixing scam which led to the arrest of players, coaches, presidents and administrators. More than 50 people were arrested and many more placed under investigation.