Sunday, 3 February 2013
Juventus “Numero Uno” in Italy’s Serie A… but where to in Europe?
Juventus is the third oldest and the first professional club in Italy. Their worldwide success and fan base is only matched by their dark and scandalous past. For now they are a club again riding the wave of success. They currently share top spot with Napoli atop the Serie A ladder and are very much alive in the lucrative UEFA Champions League round of 16. The side boasts no less than nine Italian internationals, in including their very popular Captain Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and the Euro 2012 hero and evergreen mid-fielder Andrea Pirlo. Their form in the domestic competition is steady but this year is a much tightly fought league and they still have much work to do to claim the League trophy. The immediate focus is their first up Champions League encounter with current Scottish Champions Celtic. Juventus will know from Barcelona’s surprising loss in November that the ‘Hoops’ are by no means easy beats. It will take a great deal of skill for Juve to come away from Celtic Park in Glasgow with a win.
Ideally Juventus would be well placed to draw the match or notch up one or more important away goals that have the momentum balanced in the favor for the return leg in Turin on March 6. It can be argued that Celtic plays in the “easier” Scottish Premier League and they are the poorer cousins in terms of class to the two time Champions League titleholders. Celtic have tasted success in Champions League winning it back in 1966/67, and possess handy form after only tasting defeat twice in 10 starts this campaign, one of those being a narrow loss to Barcelona at Camp Nou.
Juventus will be buoyed by the news of their captain and keeper recently agreeing to a contract extension that will see him wear the gloves for his beloved club until 2015. Buffon has made it clear that his passion is winning trophies and besides the ‘Scudetto’, the elusive Champions League trophy is the one his team is chasing. If they are to progress late into the tournament or even onto Wembley, then it could well be Buffon providing one or more of his trademark penalty saves that denies their opponents from glory.
The last time Juventus tasted success in the prestigious tournament was back in 1996 when they met Dutch powerhouse Ajax in the final and prevail on penalties. Great names of football such as Fabrizio Ravanelli, Allesandro Del Piero and captain Gianluca Vialli littered this wonderful side. The club has consistently experienced success at home but dominance in Europe has always been the yardstick that measures a club’s greatness. When looking into the current markets, the ‘Black and Whites’ are fourth favorite to win the competition with Barcelona the clear favorite over Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Manchester United with their handy buffer over cross-town rivals City in the EPL, is wonderful value considering they boast the firepower of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney upfront. They do have a huge task ahead after drawing a very tough opponent in Real Madrid. No other team in Europe can boast the record of Real Madrid after winning this competition nine times since 1956, but their recent form and ongoing speculation concerning Jose Mourinho’s tenure favors a possible upset is on the cards.
As the 2012-13 tournament progresses the cream of football talent always rises to the top and what makes it the favored tournament of the football purist. Nothing beats crawling out of bed on a crisp autumn morning to make the journey to my local café to resume my intimate relationship with football and a piping hot cup of Italian hot chocolate. As the game ends it’s off to work to then dissect the game with my peers and look forward to the next leg. My money will be on Buffon raising the trophy for his beloved Juventus in May, but anything can and does happen in Champions League.