MILAN: “Unbeatable” Juventus can finally hand goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon an elusive Champions League title after making five-time winners Barcelona “cry” on their way to a spectacular Champions League semi-final exit on Wednesday. Those were the headlines splashed across the front pages a day after rock-solid Juventus followed their impressive 3-0 first-leg win over the Spanish giants with a defensive masterclass that held Barca to a frustrating scoreless draw at the Camp Nou.
As Juve celebrated a 3-0 aggregate win at a stunned but appreciative Nou Camp, Barcelona-who beat Juventus on their way to triumph in 2015 — crashed out of the competition after seeing stars Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar fail to find the net over 180 underwhelming minutes. “Fly Juve Fly” was the front page headline on Italy’s biggest-selling sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport, which included a vignette showing teary-eyed Barca star Neymar being comforted by former club defender Dani Alves.
Corriere dello Sport used the same dramatic picture of Alves and Neymar to fully illustrate the Brazilian starlet’s disappointment. “You made them cry,” screamed Corriere’s headline, while for Turin-based Tuttosport Juventus are simply “Unbeatable”. Even Barcelona, outdone by Paulo Dybala’s impressive brace and Giorgio Chiellini’s 55th minute header in Turin last week, had to agree.
“Compliments to @Juventusfc for reaching the semi-final,” the Catalan club wrote on its official Twitter page. To which Juventus replied: “Thank @FCBarcelona, it’s an honor to beat such a great opponent.” Juve go into Friday’s semi-final draw along with Real Madrid, Monaco and Atletico Madrid-all of whom have faced Massimiliano Allegri’s men in recent European campaigns.
For Barca defender Gerard Pique, though, the Italians showed enough over the two legs to merit another tilt at the trophy they last won in 1996 with a 4-2 penalties victory over Ajax. “Over the two legs, they were better than us so they deserve to go through to the semi-finals. I think they can win the Champions League this season,” said Pique. Gazzetta dello Sport suggested Juve’s virtually “impenetrable defense” should also give 39-year-old club legend Buffon the chance to add a trophy from Europe’s premier club competition to his long list of titles and accolades.
“It’s your year. With a defense like this you can lift the trophy,” said an inside-page headline. Currently on their way to a record sixth consecutive Serie A title and a third successive league and Cup double, Juve can also target an unprecedented club treble-last achieved by an Italian club by Inter Milan under Jose Mourinho in 2010. “Henceforth, there’s no doubt: there’s a smell of the treble in the air,” wrote Gazzetta columnist Alessandro De Calo.
While Allegri applauded the achievement of keeping a clean sheet against Barca, he believes there’s more to come. “It’s almost unheard of for Barcelona to fail to score over two legs. But the lads need to realize they can do even better. We are slowly improving,” Allegri told Mediaset Premium. “I’m satisfied with what we’re achieving but the onus is not on maintaining current form. Instead, we should aim to improve it.”
After Real Madrid overcame Bayern Munich 4-2 on Tuesday to send the Bundesliga giants packing, Juve fans were celebrating. The Germans have stopped Juve in their tracks twice in recent seasons, at the quarter-final stage in 2013 then again in the last 16 last year. But after seeing his Juve side oust both Monaco, in the quarters, and Real, in the semis, on their way to a 3-1 final defeat by Barcelona in 2015, Allegri should be wary of Atletico. Runners-up to Real Madrid last year, the Spaniards have beaten Juve once and held them to a draw on their previous two meetings. – AFP