Stadio Olimpico, Turin
Tuesday 21 October 2008 – 20.45CET
Group H – Matchday 3
Despite enduring his most turbulent spell since taking charge at Juventus, birthday boy Claudio Ranieri was in confident mood ahead of the visit of Real Madrid CF, insisting his side had “absolutely nothing to lose”.
The Bianconeri are in the throes of a five-match winless sequence and the pressure is mounting on Ranieri following their second successive Serie A defeat, at SSC Napoli on Saturday night. Juventus, who squandered a second-half lead in Naples, have slipped to 12th in the table and the coach has not escaped censure from the Italian media.
Nonetheless, the Roman tactician put on a brave face for the cameras, joking that he was “pleased to have turned 71 today”, before addressing the more serious matter of tackling Madrid. “We know Real are playing well at the moment,” said the 57-year-old. “They are Spanish champions, they have scored 20 goals in the Liga [in seven games and Madrid coach] Bernd Schuster has a very well-organised team. By contrast we have not been playing as well as we would have liked so we have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“It’s a testing time but we’re still building this Juventus side,” he continued. “And this game represents a great opportunity to bring back some smiles and beat one of the greatest sides in Europe. We have a few injuries but the players available are proud and determined to play well against outstanding opponents. I want them to feel free to play their best football and this is how I want us to approach the game – to give it our all.”
Ranieri’s cause has not been helped by a crippling injury crisis, which worsened on Saturday when Christian Poulsen (thigh) joined a casualty list including David Trezeguet (knee), Jonathan Zebina (achilles), Cristiano Zanetti, Tiago, Mauro Camoranesi, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Nicola Legrottaglie and Olof Mellberg (all thigh) in the treatment room. There are hopes, though, that the last three will recover in time, while Mohamed Sissoko returns from the suspension that forced him out of the Napoli defeat.
After overcoming FC Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 in their Group H curtain-raiser, Ranieri’s team could only draw 2-2 at FC BATE Borisov, and they could do with pulling out a vintage display against the nine-time European champions who are two points better off in the standings. Morale is high in the Merengues camp following their last-gasp victory in Saturday’s Madrid derby. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s early opener and a stoppage-time penalty from Gonzalo Higuaín sealed a 2-1 success at Club Atlético de Madrid, stretching the side’s unbeaten run to eight matches, including the wins against BATE and Zenit.
“We know that three points here will be a huge step towards qualifying,” said Schuster, who may be deprived of Arjen Robben who has tweaked a thigh muscle. “The onus is on the hosts to get something, which could work in our favour. Their injuries have mounted up of late, but that could be dangerous for us. They are a resourceful side who know how to react to adversity.”
Raúl relishing Juve sequel
Real Madrid CF striker Raúl González is expecting a “fiesta of football” when his side take on Juventus in an eagerly anticipated rematch of the 1998 UEFA Champions League final.
Juventus supporters may have been starved of UEFA Champions League football for the last two seasons, but their team will take centre stage in Europe again on Tuesday when they face the nine-time champions as two heavyweights collide in Group H. “This is always a huge match,” said Raúl. “It’s the Champions League, so it’s a special occasion anyway, but Juventus are one of the most important clubs in Europe, if not the world. They have a rich history and, whether we play in Madrid or here at the Olimpico, Juve against Real is always a fiesta of football. It should be a great spectacle, with them looking to keep their group hopes alive and us aiming to consolidate our lead in the group.”
For Raúl, the fixture is given added spice by the chance to renew acquaintances with Juventus forward Alessandro Del Piero, the only other survivor from the 1998 final still with their respective team. Ten years on from the Merengues’ 1-0 victory in Amsterdam, Raúl has collected two more winners’ medals and amassed a record 61 goals in the competition, 19 more than the 33-year-old Del Piero who is the fifth-highest scorer in UEFA Champions League history. “It’s an honour to play a game of this calibre here in Turin and I’m really looking forward to it,” Raúl, 31, said. “I’m also looking forward to facing Alessandro Del Piero because he’s a player I admire greatly. He has had a long and distinguished career at the same club and also for his country, just like me. He has scored lots of important goals and has been a great example.”
While Madrid are enjoying an eight-match unbeaten run, an out-of-sorts Juve have not won in five games. The Italian side, however, can boast a strong record against Madrid in recent years – they eliminated them in the first knockout round when the teams last met in 2004/05, after beating them in the semi-finals in 2002/03. Indeed, the Spanish titleholders have not prevailed in Turin for 46 years, yet with confidence high following Saturday’s derby triumph at Club Atlético de Madrid, Raúl believes their time has come.
“Juventus are not going through their best spell so hopefully we can turn that to our advantage,” he said. “But we know we’ll have to give our very best to get anything here. Juve always manage to get the result when it counts, but we know we can come away with three points. We played really well against Atlético and also in the win at Zenit St. Petersburg [on Matchday 2]. We are top of the group with two victories and feel we can carry on this momentum here in Italy.”