| Pavel Nedved was the game’s central figure, scoring Juventus’ third goal. He will, however, not be available for the final through suspension and will be missed almost as much by the global audience as by his team, who depend so much on his tireless running and explosive finishing. (AFP)
Old Trafford will be black and white and red all over on May 28 when Juventus and AC Milan contest the Champions League final. By comprehensively defeating Real Madrid here Wednesday, Juventus did more than embarrass fabled visitors. An all-Serie A showdown on English soil represents the perfect riposte to all those Premiership claims to be Europe’s leading league.
A wonderful night for Juventus was tinged with sadness for one player, the outstanding Pavel Nedved whose late caution for an innocuous foul on Steve McManaman rules him out of a trip to Manchester. The final will be the poorer for the Czech’s loss; Nedved was magnificent in putting Real to the sword, flamboyantly scoring Juventus’ third after earlier, equally smartly-taken goals by David Trezeguet and Alessandro Del Piero. Zinedine Zidane struck late on but Juventus were deserved winners over a largely insipid Real.
Even the Prado needs security staff to protect its treasures and Madrid had looked ripe for looting without the injured Claude Makelele, the Frenchman who usually performs such vital sentry service in front of an often brittle back-four. Twice the ball was cleverly worked through to Juventus’ forwards in the first half; twice they took advantage, turning the tie on its head with the goals of Trezeguet and Del Piero.
Lacking its normal shield, the soft centre that is Real’s axis of Fernando Hierro and Ivan Helguera was brutally exposed before the break. A heaving Stadio Delle Alpi, like San Siro the night before a cauldron of noise and flares, delighted in the confident movement of their idols in black and white, who took the lead after 12 minutes.
Alessio Tacchinardi, excelling in central midfield, lifted a high ball towards the edge of the area and Trezeguet jumped well, flicking it wide to Nedved, who was in bewitching mood last night. The Czech midfielder twisted this way and that, awaiting the ideal moment to lift in a cross. His forwards were busy, making runs and losing markers so that when Nedved delivered to the far-post, Del Piero was perfectly placed to head back across to Trezeguet, who relishes such chances. Iker Casillas scarcely had time to push out a hand when the ball was nestling in his net.
Advantage Juve. Trezeguet’s Bernabeu strike meant that the away-goal rule was in the Italians’ favour. The Spanish had to hit back, had to find some way of breaking down a defence expertly organized by Paolo Montero. Real looked to their stellar talents but Zidane was struggling to break free of a net cast by Gianluca Zambrotta and Lilian Thuram. Barring a momentary first-half aberration when Guti was allowed a free strike well smothered by Gianluigi Buffon, Serie A’s finest were defending with all the zeal and nous lacking in Real’s rearguard. Madrid were completely out of sorts in the first period, lacking their usual brio until Ronaldo arrived. Their mood darkened when Guti claimed he had been elbowed by Thuram. For an extraordinary three-minute period as anger engulfed him, Guti charged about looking for revenge until his blood cooled.
Composure was Juventus’ watch-word. Rather than wasting time and energy on score-settling, they poured all their dynamism into stretching the score. Edgar Davids raced around, tackling and creating. Zambrotta and Tacchinardi were immense. Nedved kept scampering forward, trailing menace. Such stirring industry was rewarded three minutes before the interval when Del Piero, seizing possession 15 yards out, brilliantly wrong-footed Michel Salgado and Hierro to open the smallest of gaps through he placed the ball past Casillas.
Real had to react; their European reign seemed to be ending before more committed opponents and their crowing fans who had travelled from all over Italy for this. Vicente del Bosque sent Ronaldo out to warm up his vulnerable calf at the break, a move that drew instant derision from the stands towards the former Inter Milan striker. Seven minutes later, Ronaldo was on, replacing the ineffectual Flavio Conceicao, as Real strove for the goal that would force extra time.
After 65 minutes, the stretching Montero brought down Ronaldo and hope flooded through Real. But Buffon, the world’s best goalkeeper, guessed Figo’s intentions well and pushed the ball to safety. Juventus supporters punched the air in delight; sadly, one fan launched a flare into the Real contingent.
The pain intensified for Real in the 73rd minute. Zambrotta spotted Nedved’s break through the middle and quickly found him. On Nedved darted, bringing a stadium to its feet in anticipation. As Casillas advanced from his line, Nedved beat him with a wonderful shot, carried on running and sank to his knees in front of a jubilant Curva Sud. Serie A is back — in style.
Juventus (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Thuram, Tudor, Montero, Birindelli (Pessotto 59); Zambrotta, Davids, Tacchinardi; Nedved; Del Piero, Trezeguet (Camoranesi 75). Subs: Chimenti (g), Fresi, Conte, Di Vaio, Zalayeta. Booked: Tacchinardi, Nedved, Montero.
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Salgado, Hierro, Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Flavio Conceicao (Ronaldo 52), Cambiasso (McManaman 75); Figo, Guti, Zidane; Raul. Subs: Cesar (g), Morientes, Portillo, Solari, Pavon. Booked: Flavio Conceicao, Salgado, Figo.
Referee: Urs Meier (Switzerland).