Andrea Pirlo

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: Juventus

APPEARING in their first Champions League final since a tepid penalty shootout loss to Serie A rivals AC Milan in 2003, the Old Lady  will need to be more entertaining to win this time around.

The perception is that the Italian champions will need to sit back to beat Barcelona, but the much talked about front three of Luis Suarez, Neymar and of course Lionel Messi need no second invitation to score, allowing them to attack could cost Juve dear.

While the likes of Gigi Buffon, Georgio Chiellini, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Patrice Evra provide a steel to the Juventus defense, Paul Pogba, Carlos Tevez and Alvaro Morata will need license to roam as Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal pull the strings in midfield.

A central three of Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli keep it tight in the middle and allow wing-backs Lichtsteiner and Evra to bomb forward and support three of either Pirlo, Vidal, Pogba or Claudio Marchisio in midfield and create opportunities for Morata and 32 goal Tevez up front in what is one of the most balanced teams in Europe.

Chiellini, however, has been ruled out through injury.

Saturday’s final is the perfect opportunity for a final swansong for a large section of the Juventus squad. Buffon is now 37 and a stalwart of the side, and while he has won almost everything he has taken part in, the Champions League still eludes the goalkeeping legend.

Do it for Gigi: Buffon is desperate for Champions League success

Do it for Gigi: Buffon is desperate for Champions League success (Photo via GianluigiBuffon.it)

Evra is set to play in his fourth Champions League final after losing the 2004 showpiece 3-0 to Porto while at Monaco, and twice more in 2009 and 2011, (both to Barcelona), when at Manchester United with his solitary Champions League triumph coming in 2008 as United defeated fellow Premier League side Chelsea on penalties in Moscow.

Precision passer Pirlo may still play like he did when he was 25, but the reality now is that he is 36 and may never get the opportunity to add to his two Champions League titles. Victory on Saturday will be his first “Ol’ Big Ears” success with Juventus, as his 2003 and 2007 wins both came with AC Milan over his current club and Liverpool respectively.

On the other end of the age scale, Pogba could be saying ‘ta ta’ to Turin after the Berlin final with anyone who is anyone in Europe being linked to the flamboyant Frenchman this summer.

Chelsea and Manchester City both want to bring Pogba back to England, Paris Saint-Germain are trying to persuade the 22-year-old to return home to his native France, Bayern Munich are also keen, while even Manchester United, the club who gave up on the mercurial midfielder when he was 19, are trying to make amends for their earlier error in letting him go three years ago.

If Juventus are to win Europe’s top competition for the first time since 1997, they are going to need to tactically outclass Barca, knowing when to soak up the pressure and when to attack the Catalans. A blend of youth and experience may just be pivotal to working that out.

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Juventus 3-2 Roma

Juventus battled to a dramatic 3-2 win over AS Roma in a match where two red cards were shown, three penalties were awarded, Roma dropped points for the first time this season while Juventus kept up their 100% record.

Six cards were shown in a bad tempered clash, three for each side as well as one red card each.

Leonardo Bonucci dramatically won the game for the holders four minutes before the end, volleying in the winner from the edge of the box.

Penalty number one was dispatched by Carlos Tevez just before the half hour mark after Andrea Pirlo’s free-kick struck the hand of Maicon.

Roma were awarded a spot kick of their own five minutes later when Francesco Totti was bundled to the floor by Stephan Lichtsteiner in an off the ball incident during a free-kick.

Totti dusted himself down and dispatched his penalty for 1-1.

Rudi Garcia’s side completed the turn around 12 minutes later thanks to Juan Iturbe’s clinical first time strike as a result of a clever Gervinho pass.

Juventus’ second penalty was awarded in controversial circumstances, Paul Pogba was fouled by Seydou Keita outside the box but referee Gianluca Rocchi adjudged that the foul took place inside the area and wrongly gave the penalty.

Spot on: Carlos Tevez celebrates his second scored penalty.

Spot on: Carlos Tevez celebrates his second scored penalty.

Tevez was left with the simple task of scoring his second from the spot in the game to bring the Old Lady back level in first half injury time.

Gervinho had a golden opportunity to extend Roma’s lead just before that penalty but he curled a shot high and wide of Juventus’ goal.

Miralem Pjanic had the chance of the second half but he failed to hit the target from a tight angle after some good work by Gervinho to keep the ball in play.

Substitute Alvaro Morata came closest for the hosts when his header hit the bar.

Late drama ensured in Turin as both Morata and Kostas Manolas were sent off. Morata for a feisty challenge and Manolas for his reaction to said challenge, pushing Morata in the chest which sparked a mass brawl towards the end shortly after Juventus’ third goal.

Juventus: Buffon, Caceres (Ogbonna ’45), Bonucci, Chiellini, Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Pirlo (Vidal ’79), Marchisio, Asamoah, Tevez, Llorente (Morata ’59)

Subs not used: Storari, Rubinho, Evra, Pepe, Padoin, Pereyra, Mattiello, Coman, Giovinco

Roma: Skorupski; Maicon, Manolas, Yanga-Mbiwa, Holebas; Pjanic, Keita, Nainggolan, Iturbe (Florenzi ’66) Totti (Destro ’75), Gervinho

Subs not used: Lobont, Cole, Ljajic, Paredes, Torosidis, Ucan, Somma, Emanuelson, Calabresi, Sanabria

 

Italy 0-1 Costa Rica

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The World Cup surprise package Costa Rica produced their second shock win, defeating Italy 0-1 in a result that sent the underdogs through and knocked England out.

Bryan Ruiz provided the goal one minute before half time when he headed home Junior Diaz’s superb cross from the left hand side off the underside of the bar and in.

It was perhaps justice done as just before Costa Rica should have had a penalty when Joel Campbell was bundled over by Giorgio Chiellini.

In what was a game of few clear cut chances, Andrea Pirlo had Italy’s closest effort when his long-range free-kick was beaten away by Keylor Navas.

Despite the attacking introductions of Antonio Cassano, Alessio Cerci and Lorenzo Insigne, Italy could not find the leveler and Costa Rica held on for a historic win that sees them reach round 2 of the World Cup for the first time since 1990. Ironically held in Italy.

Italy now face a do-or-die clash with Uruguay next Tuesday where the winner will join Costa Rica in the last 16.

England 1-2 Italy: Roy’s boys lose opening match

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Italy recorded a somewhat fortunate win over an England side who dominated much of the play but ultimately came up short.

Cesare Prandelli’s side took the lead ten minutes before half time after some poor England positioning when defending a corner. White shirts crowded the box but Claudio Marchisio received the ball outside the area and plenty of time and acres of space to set himself and fire at goal. Joe Hart had no chance.

England were not behind for long however, Wayne Rooney playing in what seems to be his new position for the Three Lions, whipped in a ball on the left hand side that Daniel Sturridge tucked home from close range two minutes later.

The Azzuri regained the lead five minutes into the second half thanks to Mario Balotelli’s close range header from Antonio Candreva’s cross. Candreva darting past Leighton Baines and floating in a delivery that went over Gary Cahill and into the path of Balotelli who couldn’t really miss.

Raheem Sterling looked to have gave England the lead after just four minutes when his drive from distance rippled the net, the side netting though, disappointing many an England fan who thought they were in front.

Jordan Henderson wasn’t far away either, a swerving shot from him was palmed away well by Italy’s stand in goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu.

Italy hit back with first Daniele De Rossi warming Hart’s gloves with a stinging shot that was fumbled and then Balotelli curled a shot over from far out.

A minute later and England came close again, Danny Welbeck on the right squaring the ball across goal but Andrea Barzagli slid in just before Sturridge and Italy re grouped for a corner.

Phil Jagielka saved England just before the break when Balotelli lobbed an out of position Hart but the Everton defender was there to clear it off the line. Just after that Candreva cut inside and rattled the post but England survived.

England also had a penalty claim when Welbeck was sandwiched between two Italy defenders as he attempted to reach a Sterling ball across goal.

Rooney was more of a shooting threat in the second half as he was moved into his favoured central role, first shooting narrowly wide from the edge of the area and soon after cutting inside a defender and firing wide again, should have really scored.

Ross Barkley was introduced for Welbeck with twenty five minutes left and made an immediate impact, bursting down the left, turning inside an Italian defender and having a shot palmed away by Sirigu.

Inside the last twenty minutes Glen Johnson decided to try his luck after receiving the ball from a short corner but his strike whistled wide.

England had a few last throws of the dice with free kicks from Steven Gerrard and Baines but there was no David Beckham esque moment vs Greece. Andrea Pirlo almost scored one for Italy though, smacking the bar from distance and Italy held on for the win.