Juventus vs Barcelona has been a rare fixture as of late, the two sides haven’t faced each other in a competitive fixture in over 12 years, but the battle between the black and white vs the red and blue will remerge once more, this time in the Champions League Final in Berlin this week. THT reviews a classic game between these two iconic clubs one day before the big final in Berlin.
So it’s April 22nd, 2003 at the Camp Nou for the second leg following a 1-1 draw two weeks prior at the Stadio delle Alpi. Both sides were having contrasting fortunes in their respective domestic campaigns, Juve were sitting top of the Serie A table, six points ahead of Inter and had beaten Roma the previous weekend. Having earned a morale-boosting but energy-sapping 1-1 draw at Real Madrid CF on Saturday, Barcelona were feeling the strain; but their Serbian coach was adamant that his side’s busy schedule should have no bearing on their performance in a second-leg match they enter level at 1-1. Only by winning the Champions League can Barcelona qualify for next season’s competition given their low domestic standing. With tiredness increasingly a factor as the season reaches a climax, the form of players returning from injury could be significant and from Barcelona’s point of view, there was no individual quite as important as Luis Enrique, whose return after achilles and knee injuries has already transformed his side. The Italian champions were missing David Trezeguet for the crunch game; he also missed the first leg due to injury. Gigi Buffon was the only survivor from the match who is still at Juventus. Barcelona were more or less at full strength for the encounter with current Barca manager Luis Enrique starting in midfield alongside Xavi, who will play his last game for the club in the 2015 final. Current Verona striker Javier Saviola started up front for the Catalans. Antic’s opposite number, Marcello Lippi, faces problems of his own as he aimed to coax Alessandro Del Piero back to his best form, knowing that a shoulder injury ruled French striker David Trezeguet out of the game. Del Piero was a little subdued in the first leg, but the striker himself was now brimming with confidence, having scored twice in the Serie A leaders’ weekend win over AS Roma.
Barcelona Starting Line-up (4-4-2):Bonano(Gk); Reiziger, Puyol, Andersson, de Boer; Overmars, Motta, Luis Enrique, Xavi; Saviola, Kluivert
Juventus Starting Line-up (4-3-1-2):Buffon(Gk); Thuram, Ferrara, Montero, Zambrotta; Davids, Camoranesi, Tacchinardi; Nedved; Del Piero, Di Vaio
The cauldron-like atmosphere of the Nou Camp suggested that an epic encounter lay in store. Luis Enrique, so often Barcelona’s main source of inspiration, led his team-mates by example and was at the heart of some of their best moves. Before kick-off, the home fans displayed their team’s motto ‘Forca Barca’, and the force certainly was with the Catalan giants in the opening exchanges. For Juventus, Nedved orchestrated the Italians forays into the opposition half. Referee Graham Poll was also in the thick of the action, forced to brandish the yellow cards to Juve trio Gianluca Zambrotta, Paolo Montero and Davids for cynical fouls, with Marc Overmars the victim more than once. There was a massive shout for handball when Kluivert hit the ball into the air and on to the forearm of Thuram, after watching the replay several times you would have to say Juve were very fortunate as Thuram’s arm was outstretched.Too often, Barcelona over-elaborated in good positions when simplicity might have brought far more effective results. And the only ingredient missing from a pulsating first half was a goal. After more back and forth that produced no further chances Graham Poll blew for the half time whistle, as it stood Barca where going through on away goals.
With the game locked at 0-0 at half time, Juve coach Marcelo Lippi introduced Zalayeta for the ineffective Marco Di Vaio – and it would prove to be a masterstroke. However, it was Enrique who should have opened the scoring for Barcelona immediately after the restart. The playmaker evaded the Juventus defence with some beautiful footwork and found himself with only the goalkeeper to beat, but Enrique’s touch deserted him and he fired wide. Juventus took heed of the warning and promptly profited from their reprieve with Nedved skipping past the Barcelona defence to fire the Italians into the lead. Edgar Davids, arguably Juve’s best player on the pitch, wins possession of the ball on the left hand touchline, the pitbull then strides forward several yards and slips the ball into the feet of Nedved on the periphery of the Barca box. The Czech cuts inside Andersson and runs into the box unopposed as several Barca players chase him but cant get close enough to make a challenge. He hits the ball with his instep and it flies past Bonano into the bottom right hand corner of his net.
Minutes after the goal Nedved almost added another one wtih a spectacular effort – bending a shot from 35 yards that was arching into the top corner only for Bonano to make an incredible save. Juve’s lead only lasted 13 minutes as the Catalans equalised through a familiar face, Xavi.Enrique endeavored to make amends for his glaring miss and it was only fitting that he should provide the cross for Barcelona’s equaliser, a well-struck shot by Xavi. Thuram headed the ball outwards but the ball landed to Xavi at the tip of the box, who took it down and struck a fierce half volley which went through the legs of the onrushing Thuram and arrowed into Buffon’s net. And it was advantage Barcelona when Davids, having escaped with a final warning moments earlier, pushed referee Poll too far and was dismissed for hauling down Gaizka Mendieta. Minutes later Lippi made a tactical gamble, taking off Del Piero for center back Igor Tudor. There were no further chances as the clock ticked down to the end of the 90 minutes; it would now go into extra time.
Barcelona cranked up the pressure on ten man Juve, and with the enigmatic genius Juan Roman Riquelme on the field, Barca were now finding pockets of space but the Juve rearguard was holding firm. Buffon pulled off a brilliant save to deny Kluivert. It was looking like only a matter of time before the home side would score, the pressure was mounting. The hosts were ultimately made to pay for their profligacy when Juventus broke at speed and Zalayeta converted Alessandro Birindelli’s excellent cross from the right. Zalayeta was at Juventus on and off for a decade and he is best remembered for two goals; one against Real Madrid in the last 16 of the 2004-05 Champions League and this goal against Barcelona. He didn’t score many goals, but when he did, they undoubtedly mattered. Juve’s second goal deflated the home side. Graham Poll finally blew for the full time whistle with the Juventus players ecstatic. Juventus would go on to beat another Spanish opponent Real Madrid in the semi final before suffering another final defeat against Milan.
For the millions and millions of Juventus supporters around the world, this is a moment that will live long in memory. After 12 long years, The Old Lady is back in the showcase. And, in the words of Alfredo Di Stefano, repeated possibly more frequently in Italian than even the great Argentine’s native tongue, “Le finali non si giocano, si vincono.”(Final’s aren’t there to be played, they’re there to be won.)