Juventus have been eliminated from the Champions League following a 2-0 second leg defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich. Luca Cetta writes.
Juventus huffed and puffed, but the Bayern wall didn’t come crumbling down. Antonio Conte vowed the team which took the field at the Juventus Stadium on Wednesday would be a different prospect than the one comprehensively beaten a week earlier. ‘Scatenate L’inferno’ – Unleash Hell – cried Tuttosport. And for portions of the second leg, the Bianconeri did pressure the Bavarians. But it wasn’t enough against the slick Bayern machine, who produced a calculated display to earn a 4-0 aggregate triumph. “We certainly played better than the first leg, but Bayern proved they are a very strong side and one stronger than us,” admitted Andrea Barzagli afterwards.
Andrea Pirlo came closest for the home side during the first half, stinging the palms of Manuel Neuer with a free-kick. Juve survived some threatening Bayern incursions, and in the second half the tie was almost put to rest by Arjen Robben. His shot curled off the post, but Mario Mandzukic was not to be denied minutes later.
A set piece whipped into the penalty area was met by Javi Martinez and his parried attempt fell invitingly for the Croat. He made no mistake from close range. At that moment, the majority of the 40,000 in attendance – who lived in hope and had seen Borussia Dortmund snatch victory from the jaws of defeat a night earlier – knew it was over. Claudio Pizarro made it an emphatic triumph in injury time. Bayern qualify for yet another semi-final. Juventus are left to ponder what might have been.
The Bianconeri were dealt a blow with the suspensions of first-choice players Stephan Lichtsteiner and Arturo Vidal from the first leg. Simone Padoin and Paul Pogba stepped in and for the first 45 minutes especially, were excellent. They had chances, Pirlo’s free-kick and a Fabio Quagliarella shot that cracked the outside of the post their best. This was a better Juve from the outset, as Barzagli noted. The Old Lady showed greater comfort in possession, more desire and determination.
But for all the endeavour, there was something lacking. The inferno never truly arrived. That precious first goal to whip the crowd into a frenzy and give Juventus the momentum was sorely missed. Whether a moment of inspiration or luck, it did not fall Juve’s way. The threat of an early Bayern away goal killing the tie loomed. It held Conte’s men back a touch. That and the fact the Bavarians are a quality outfit. After they weathered the initial storm, Jupp Heynckes’ side were proficient with the ball, tactically smart and always in command of the tie.
Pogba underlined the sense of helplessness: “We would have liked to score early but they didn’t let us, they played a great game, so there was nothing we could do, especially after they managed to score.”
Barzagli believes Juventus have a step to climb in order to reach Bayern’s level. Champions League experience, he also notes, played a large part in their opponents success. “We need to improve in order to reach their level and maybe by working hard we can get there. This was our first Champions League in many years, for some of us the first full stop. Bayern have been at this level for five or six years, but we are just dipping our toes in.”
A number of Juve players stepped on to the pitch last September at Stamford Bridge – or in subsequent matches – making their Champions League debuts. The campaign was Conte’s first on the sidelines. The squad and Coach will grow and learn. The core can lead Juventus in seasons to come. They may have bowed out, but the Old Lady will be back stronger following a wholly positive experience in 2012-13.