A boldly-worded message by Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has revealed the worst kept secret in Turin: the Serie A giants’ confidence of a first Champions League title in 19 years is growing.
“We’ve won our 10th (trophy) under the stars of Rome,” Allegri wrote on Twitter following Juventus’s Italian Cup triumph over Lazio on Wednesday.
“On our jerseys we’ll soon have another (star) that no one else has. This Juventus team has some character !”
Missing influential goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, striker Alvaro Morata and midfielder Claudio Marchisio, both suspended, Juventus kept their hopes of an unprecedented club treble on track thanks to Alessandro Matri’s extra-time winner in a 2-1 defeat of Lazio on Wednesday.
Lazio defender Stefan Radu silenced the black and white half of a packed Stadio Olimpico after just four minutes when he rose to meet a free kick and send a header past a flailing Marco Storari.
Juve levelled barely six minutes later when Paul Pogba nodded Andrea Pirlo’s free kick from the back post towards Giorgio Chiellini, who bundled a half-volley past Etrit Berisha from close range.
After the match finished level, Juventus put one hand on what was their first Italian Cup in 20 years when Matri, who had replaced Fernando Llorente on 86 minutes and saw a perfectly good goal chalked off for a wrong offside decision a minute later, fired past Berisha from Tevez’s well-worked lay-off in the 96th minute.
Having reverted to a 3-5-2 formation that Allegri has deployed only in emergency situations in the Champions League this season, it was far from a spectacular stuff from the recently-crowned Serie A champions.
But amid the key absences of Buffon, Marchisio and Morata, Juve’s strength in depth shone through against a Lazio side that has been the second most successful side in Italy’s top flight since January.
The question now is whether Juve can outrun, outmuscle and outwit an impressive Barcelona side inspired by the creative nous and goalscoring skills of the world’s best player in Argentinian Lionel Messi.
“There is not a system or coach to stop talent of his magnitude,” Bayern Munich coach and former Barca handler Pep Guardiola said after Messi struck twice and set up Neymar in the final 13 minutes for a 3-0 first-leg semi-final win over the Germans earlier this month.
Barcelona, who lost the second leg 3-2 but advanced 5-3 on aggregate, appear to have upped the stakes in the pre-final mind games.
“We’ll see you in Berlin. Well done Juve, we’re waiting for you,” said a message posted on the Spanish giants’ website following Wednesday’s Cup win.
Matri, after Wednesday’s final, admitted: “We have to go there (Berlin) with the right mindset because we all know they’re a very strong team… but we’ll be looking to play to our strengths.”
Tevez, despite 20 league goals this season and seven from 12 Champions League games this campaign, may not possess the skills that has seen Messi take his Champions League goals tally to 10 this season.
But Allegri believes Juve have what it takes collectively to topple Barcelona in one, intense encounter in Berlin that could end the Old Lady’s 19-year wait to triumph in Europe.
“This squad is extraordinary, and let’s not forget that for eight months we’ve been missing (Andrea) Barzagli and (Kwadwo) Asamaoh, and we were also without (Martin) Caceres and (Andrea) Pirlo for several months,” added Allegri.
“In key games we also had players who had played less and this underlines everyone’s desire to win and their commitment to the squad.”
He added: “When you come up against great teams you always have a chance when it’s just one game.
“We’ll go to Berlin to fight for the Champions League after winning the league title and the Cup, but Barcelona are in top form — as are we. Our treble dream continues, it won’t be easy but it’s a dream that can become reality.”
List of 58 clubs who will be included in the 2018 CAF Champions League qualifying …