Juventus 2-2 Chelsea: Bianconeri Fighting Spirit Not Enough, Blues Qualify for Quarters (UEFA Champions League Round of 16, Second Leg)

Juventus' Sebastian Giovinco reacts at the end of the Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match against Chelsea in Turin, Italy, Tuesday March 10, 2009. (AP Photo)

At the end of the night, the accolades between Juventus and Chelsea players after the full-time whistle are the only consoling (and beautiful) images emanating from the Stadio Olimpico of Turin. The Blues have won on aggregate, the Bianconeri are out of Europe.

Over-turning the 1-0 deficit from the first leg was going to be a big hurdle for Ranieri & friends to overcome; at the end of 90 minutes an insurmountable one. The match ended 2-2, with the strokes of Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alessandro Del Piero giving Juve hope twice, only to see it destroyed by the daggers of Michael Essien and Didier Drogba, two players which had been so crucially absent during Scolari’s reign.

The Bianconeri, decimated by injuries (which even last night did not fail to take their toll on the Old “rotten luck” Lady), played in true Juve spirit: with their hearts. They needed to play the perfect game, score goals without conceding any. It was not to be. Once again Chelsea (and by extent, the English Premiership) proved their superiority as a great team, concentrated in defense and cynical in attack, morally solidified by the arrival of expert tactician Guus Hiddink. One manager who, you may remember from WC 2002, already crushed Italian hearts with South Korea, and who continues the English Juve-killing trend initiated by Liverpool (2005) and Arsenal (2006).

But speaking of Hiddink, one seriously has to wonder if fate would have been kinder to Juve had Scolari still been at the Blues’ helm. We will never know. One this is for certain though: after overt two years of absence, Juventus can be proud of their return to the UEFA Champions League. “There is always next year” as they say, and the rebuilding towards European grandeur continues.

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Juventus vs. Chelsea

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Round of 16, Second Leg - Juventus 2-2 Chelsea

Tactically, Ranieri sprang a surprise with his starting eleven: finally a tridente formation, with Del Piero playmaker behind Trezeguet and Iaquinta (in smashing form the last couple of matches), and Mellberg to replace injured Legrottaglie at center-back. Hiddink responded with the return of Michael Essien (months absent with a knee ligament injury), slotting him into the right side of the midfield in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Of course, the best of Ranieri’s intentions to properly prepare this match (with the few troops he had left) took another dent in minute 12, when Nedved had to leave the field injured. On came “Brazzo” Salihamidzic.

But grim faces turned to smiles in minute 19, when with the first chance of the match Juve went ahead. Vincenzo Iaquinta & David Trezeguet beautifully combined (the former with an aerial backheel pass, the latter with a perfect return pass on the volley), to send the ex-Udinese striker in deep, and fire a rocket past the onrushing Cech. The Olimpico exploded: 1-0 Juventus, all tied on aggregate.

Juventus' Vincenzo Iaquinta celebrates after scoring during the Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match against Chelsea in Turin, Italy, Tuesday March 10, 2009. (AP Photo)

Minutes later, as Del Piero tried to capitalise on the reeling Londoners’ moment of disarray (his powerful left-foot effort finding the parrying hands of Cech) Juve continued to gain in courage and yards: Iaquinta was in perpetual motion up front, giving great depth to the Bianconeri’s moves, while his teammates relentlessly pressured into making mistakes. But it was an activity flash that rapidly subsided, because soon after the match tempo went back to cruise control: lots of tension, lots of battling… very little play.

Until the 44th minute. Oh that gut-wrenching minute. First, Chelsea obtained their very first scoring opportunity, a (very doubtful) foul given on the edge of the box: Drogba’s free-kick over the wall, saved by Buffon, seemed to have crossed the line although not completely. Referee judged the ball to be still in play. A lucky break, but not for long. Still somewhat under shock for the escaped danger the Bianconeri capitulated just a minute later, when a long range attempt by Lampard deflected off Tiago onto to crossbar: Essien rushed in, beat Molinaro and slipped the ball under Buffon for the equalizer. 1-1, and the worst possible ending to a first half that had shown so much promise.

Chelsea's Michael Essien (R) shoots and scores as Juventus' goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon tries to stop the ball during their Champions League soccer match at the Olympic stadium in Turin March 10, 2009. (Reuters)

The start of the second half was uneventful. Ranieri picked some new cards: off with Iaquinta (yeah, no one in the stadium understood that one either), on came Giovinco. Fortunately the replacemeent for Juve’s matchscorer proved to be more than adequate: visibly galvanized by the big European scene, Super-Seba started putting Chelsea on the ropes with his changes of pace, while Del Piero (who had moved up to a striker position) inspired Trezeguet’s header, finding an attentive Petr Cech to make the save.

But then, the few cards left in the Juve castle came all rumbling down, as Chiellini earned himself a second booking (tackle on Lampard set for the counter-attack) and left his team with 10 men. Two goals to score under-manned, mission impossible even for the Bianconeri.

Juventus' Alessandro Del Piero (R) celebrates after scoring with teammate Sebastian Giovinco (C) as Chelsea's John Terry watches during their Champions League soccer match at the Olympic stadium in Turin March 10, 2009. (Reuters)

Or was it? In the words of Anthony Hopkins, perhaps it was just “mission difficult because out of nowhere, Juve found a miracle. A set piece on the edge of the Chelsea box, with less than 20 minutes to go. And who says FK says ADP. Pinturicchio’s curling effort found the hands of Belletti inside the wall: clear penalty. Transformed by Del Piero, 2-1 Juventus. With a lifeline.

It was a wild couple of minutes: the Olimpico, silenced after Essien’s equalizer, erupted to life. Even under-manned, their heroes had fought back from adversity and now just need another teenie weenie miracle to earn their ticket to the next round. Could they do it? All caution was thrown to the wind as the Bianconeri pushed forward, lead by a Sebastian Giovinco in full pixie-on-speed mode. 10 minutes from the end however, Didier Drogba (who else) extinguished the Old Lady’s hopes. Chiellini’s absence left its mark, and the Ivorian international slipped clear as he received Belletti’s pass to knock the 2-2 home. The match was over. Chelsea go through, Juve are out of Europe.

Juventus' Alessandro Del Piero greets his supporters at the end of the Champions League soccer match against Chelsea at the Olympic stadium in Turin March 10, 2009.  (Reuters)



 Chelsea F.C.
GOALSCORERS: 19’ Iaquinta (J), 45’ Essien (C), 74’ Del Piero (J), 81’ Drogba (C).
JUVENTUS (4-3-3): Buffon – Grygera, Mellberg, Chiellini, Molinaro – Marchisio, Tiago, Nedved (13’ Salihamidzic) – Iaquinta (60’ Giovinco), Trezeguet (78’ Amauri), Del Piero. (bench: Manninger, Zebina, Ariaudo, Poulsen). Coach: Ranieri.
CHELSEA (4-1-4-1): Cech – Bosingwa, Alex (88 R.Carvalho), Terry, A.Cole – Mikel – Essien (65’ Belletti), Ballack, Lampard, Anelka – Drogba. (bench: Hilario, Mancienne, Deco, Malouda, Kalou). Coach: Hiddink.


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