Juventus 1-0 Zenit: The Bianconeri Dreamt It, ADP Dealt It (UEFA Champions League 2008-09)

Ladies & gentlemen, it was destiny. Almost three years after their last Champions League appearance, Juventus’s return to the top European competition could only have born the captain’s signature. In a moment of free-kick magic, Alessandro Del Piero delivered the victory to the Stadio Olimpico crowd, a magistral (“magistral”? Look at me, I’m talking like Ray Hudson now) execution that fooled the Zenit keeper and rocketed the ball into the back of the net. Europa, siamo tornati!!!

(From Gazzetta): Juventus grabbed their first points of the 2008-09 UCL season Wednesday, and can thank captain Alessandro Del Piero for it. A well-earned result in a hard-fought match which, considering Real Madrid‘s presence inside the group, makes the win all the more important.

The difference tonight was made by a moment of brilliance, that of the Bianconeri’s most charismatic player: Il Capitano. A moment which, in the light of today’s performance, was just as precious as Gigi Buffon’s saves with the score still tied. Juve did not radiate brilliance in this match, far from it, but against a very tough opponent (which after their UEFA Cup triumph rose way up to the new UCL challenge) Ranieri’s men nonetheless confirmed their thirst for victory, even if they did not play exceptionally well. After all, winning through mediocrity (not that Juve deserve that appellation) is one of the main qualities great teams are made of.

Depending on whether you’re a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of guy, you might want to look at Juventus’ first half as either positively (intermittent bits of good play) or negatively (not a very convincing display overall). Zenit’s three-man attacking formation forced the Bianconeri wing-backs to limit their movements forward, thus disabling the wing support for Camoranesi and Nedved. Meanwhile Sissoko and Poulsen provided plenty of interdiction quality in the middle (equaled in that regard by Anatoliy Tymoschuk), but were struggling in terms of playmaking. That part was left to Del Piero, thus forcing the Juve captain to backtrack from his forward position as a result.

There was only so much ADP could do though: he couldn’t launch a pass, make the run, and then be there to receive it at the other end. Not with David Trezeguet constantly being harassed by the two Zenit center-backs, and unable to provide a wall pass. On the other end, Zenit certainly hadn’t come to Turin as mere spectators: well set-up by a Denisov-Arshavin (seemingly “pardoned” and returning from bench-exile) combination, €30m-man Danny Alves missed an almost certain goal in front of Buffon, who watched the ball slip inches wide of the post from 12 yards out.

Thus inevitably, the first half ended on a (fair) 0-0 scoreline, also because whatever little sparks of light Juve produced (such as Del Piero’s double cross for Trezeguet and Camoranesi, wide on both headed counts) were inevitably silenced by the Italo-Argentine’s injury (and forced replacement) at the half hour mark. Especially since Ranieri didn’t feel like playing the Iaquinta card this time, deciding to go for the more balanced (read: defensive) Hasan Salihamidzic.

In the second period however, the match finally started to pick up pace. Not right away, although Radek Šírl‘s 11th minute one-on-one with Buffon (with a big suspicion of offside) definitely provided some scares for the Juve faithful (Gigi was brilliant in his off-the-line rush anyways). 15 minutes later, the Bianconeri had their biggest chance yet when a Nedved set-piece was deflected toward the post by Christian Poulsen. Vyacheslav Malafeev showed off his reflexes between the posts and parried away.

Poulsen’s chance was however a prelude to the goal, a brilliant moment of set-piece magic by Alessandro Del Piero. 30 metres out and quite a few yards to the left, the Juve captain donned his magic free-kick boots and applied (with a little inspiration from Juninho/Pirlo/C.Ronaldo) a fantastic swerve-to-the-left-then-swerve-to-the-right trajectory to his shot. Malafeev was surprised, and the entire Stadio Olimpico erupted in joy at the ball hit the inside of the goal mesh, ending a two-year European goalscoring drought for Juventus. 1-0 in big effing style. The Old Lady is back Europe!

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Juventus F.C.
JUVENTUS-ZENIT
1-0
[Match Highlights]
 FC Zenit St. Petersburg
GOALSCORERS: 75’ Del Piero (J).
JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon – Grygera, Legrottaglie, Chiellini, Molinaro (57’ De Ceglie) – Camoranesi (31’ Salihamidzic), Poulsen, Sissoko, Nedved – Trezeguet (87’ Amauri), Del Piero. (bench: Manninger, Mellberg, Marchisio, Iaquinta). Coach: Ranieri.
ZENIT (4-3-3): Malafeyev – Anyukov, Krizanac, Puygrenier, Sirl – Denisov, Tymoschuk, Zyryanov (80’ Dominguez) – Arshavin, Pogrebnyak, Danny. (bench: Contofalski, Hubocan, Kim, Radimov, Fayzulin, Ricksen). Coach: Advocaat.

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