Juventus rounds out mouthwatering final four in Champions LeagueMonaco: Juventus and Italian football are back among the elite of the elite in Europe.The so-called 'Old Lady' of Turin, looking not old at all, ground out a 0-0 draw with Monaco on Wednesday to
Monaco: Juventus and Italian football are back among the elite of the elite in Europe.
The so-called 'Old Lady' of Turin, looking not old at all, ground out a 0-0 draw with Monaco on Wednesday to secure a 1-0 win on aggregate and become the first Italian team since Inter won the competition in 2010 to qualify for the Champions League semifinals.
With Real Madrid beating Atletico 1-0 in Wednesday's other quarterfinal, the semifinals now offer the mouthwatering prospect of four top teams that have all won European football's premier club competition multiple times. Barcelona and Bayern Munich round out the last four.
Juventus, a two-time champion, won't be the strongest team in Friday's semifinal draw. But the dogged, metronomic and assured defending Juventus deployed to blunt Monaco's youthful attack showed it will be a challenge to break down.
Arturo Vidal, whose first-leg penalty goal proved decisive in this quarterfinal, and the hoped-for return from a thigh injury of Paul Pogba give Juventus plenty of attacking intent from midfield. Striker Carlos Tevez, a 2008 Champions League winner with Manchester United, also is a constant headache for opposing defenders, even when sick as he was against Monaco.
Stopped in the quarterfinals in 2013, 2006 and 2005, Juventus will play in the semis for the first time since 2003, when it was a losing finalist on penalties to AC Milan.
"It's a very big year for Juventus and we have to savor it," said coach Massimiliano Allegri. "We are laying the foundations to become a very strong club."
Juventus is also running away with its fourth consecutive Serie A title and can complete a domestic double in the Italian Cup final against Lazio on June 7.
Its advance to the Champions League semis is also a much-needed fillip for Italian club football, which has slipped behind Germany in European rankings and struggled to keep up with Europe's highest-earning teams.
Against Monaco's speed and youth, the experience of Juventus' veterans quickly told. With 198 Champions League appearances between them, midfielder Andrea Pirlo and left-back Patrice Evra had 30 matches more at this level than the entire Monaco starting 11.
Pirlo, a Champions League winner with the Milan team that beat Juventus in 2003, came closest to breaking the stalemate in Monaco's Louis II stadium with an artful free-kick late in the second half that shaved paint off Danijel Subasic's posts.
For Monaco, Geoffrey Kondogbia threatened from midfield. The crowd howled for a first-half penalty when Vidal and defender Giorgio Chiellini sandwiched the tall, powerful 22-year-old as he charged with ball at feet into the Juventus box, bringing him down. Referee William Collum waved play on. Should the much sought-after Pogba leave Juventus for another club, Kondogbia will have left a good impression as a possible replacement for his France teammate on the strength of his performance here.
Despite needing a goal to erase Juventus' slender first-leg advantage, Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim left the experience of former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov on the bench until halftime, when he reshuffled his deck, taking off deep-lying midfielder Jeremy Toulalan, suffering lingering effects of a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the first leg.
With Berbatov, the effect was immediate. Monaco created more work for Juventus in a second half of sustained and more intense pressure. But last season's French league runner-up has struggled to score at home this season. Not for the first time, Monaco fans were left ruing the club's loan of goal-scorer Radamel Falcao to Manchester United. With 12 attempts on goal, but only one on target, Monaco never really sweated Juventus' evergreen 37-year-old 'keeper Gianluigi Buffon in his 85th Champions League appearance.
Laid low by tonsillitis earlier in the week, first-leg scorer Vidal didn't last the match, substituted after 77 minutes. Allegri said other players also got sick, including forwards Tevez and Alvaro Morata, who vomited on the bench after Fernando Llorente replaced him midway through the second half.
"We had to be courageous and tenacious," said Allegri.
And from here, the Old Lady's road will only get steeper.