On 19 July 2014, Juventus F.C. announced that they had reached an agreement with Real Madrid for the transfer of Alvaro Morata, who signed a five-year deal for a fee of a 20 million, with Real Madrid having the option of buying him back in the future.
A little more than a year later the young Madrid-born Spaniard turned out to be the difference between the two teams in their Champions League semi-final. Morataa s crucial second-half equalizer (1-1) against his boyhood side took the Italian giants past the Champions League holders on aggregate (3-2). A first final appearance awaits for Juventus since the 2003 finals, when The Zebras failed to lift the coveted trophy losing painfully on penalties to AC Milan. With the Serie A title already tucked under their belts and the Coppa Italia finals against Lazio coming up next week, Massimiliano Allegria s first season at the helm is certainly on track for Juventus’ first European treble.
On paper Juventus went into Wednesdaya s second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu holding a 2-1 advantage, but with an away goal already under their belt all Real Madrid needed was a 1-0 victory and with home fans rallying behind this massively talented squad of Galacticos, Juventus were assures a difficult match. From the word go Madrid went at the Juventus back four, as Marceloa s run down the left flank ended in a cross that found Gareth Bale who could only harmlessly head the ball over. With both the teams attacking simultaneously in the early stages of the game, Madrid continued to look more likely to break the deadlock with the inclusion of Karim Benzema (who was back in the team after a seven match long injury-break) seemingly having settled down the Madrid line-up a lot better than from the first leg.
Benzema, after doing well to bring down a ball in the box, shot high and wide and Cristiano Ronaldoa s tricky feet that produced a doable free-kick, saw his shot deflected by an almost raised Aturo Vidal elbow, which on another day would have conceded a penalty. The Chilean midfielder forced a diving save from Iker Casillas to register Juvea s first shot on target moments later. Bale soon joined the party with an ambitious dipping effort from pretty far-off, only to be denied by an acrobatic Gianluigi Buffon, but the Juve captain failed an encore when Ronaldo scored from the spot after James Rodriguez was brought down in the box by a reckless Chiellini. James went down in the box yet again before the interval only to be yellow-carded for simulation, but again had the Columbian not overdone his act, it probably would have produced yet another penalty for an overly rash challenge from Vidal. With the spot kick putting them ahead, Real Madrid ended the first half in pole position with 13 attempts on target and 53 percent of the possession.
After the interval as the Italians stood with the ball at their feet waiting for the home team to show up on the pitch, the Madrid show of arrogance saw the Galacticos come on three minutes late for the second half and it seemed to have the desired effect as Juventus got off to a shaky start with Madrid quickly in search of the second goal that would put the game to rest. The play tilted in Madrida s favor, a goal imminent any moment, when the visitors re-established their aggregate lead against the flow of play as Morata decided to remind the Bernebau faithful yet again of his worth by calmly slotting in a ball up above the reach of Casillas from a nod down by Paul Pogba. Scoring in both the legs for his side like his former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, Alvaro Morata took centre stage to define the semi-final clash.
The thirty minutes that followed were a demonstration of the defensive strength of Juventus as inspired performances from veterans Patrice Evra and Chiellini left the attacking prowess of Madrid looking like a blunt knife. Running down the wings, Madrid whipped in crosses left and right but they were either cleared by Evra or headed or shot wide and high by Bale & Co. All along Juventus kept putting together moves and creating genuine chances that would have hit the back of the net but for lack of good finishing. Considering the talent at their disposal and the 23 attempts on goal, the home side did not do too much better though and their profligacy in front of goal was to cost them the tie. A team with six players above 30-years old and that averaged 4 years older than the Galacticos of Madrid came to Santiago Bernabeu in front of a crowd washed in Madridian colors to knock them off their perch and setup a Champions League final with their arch rivals, Barcelona.
Juventus, a team that was relegated from the scrappy Serie A nine years ago is to face off against Barcelona and Lazio respectively to conquer a European treble and be crowned as the Champions of Europe. Barcelona and Juventus, both in the first season of their respective managers, will battle it out for the European championship. Add to this the prospect of a European treble for the winner with overtones of another chapter in the Luis Suarez-Evra-Chiellini saga and the final of this year’s Champions League at Olympiastadion, Berlin becomes an enticing event not only for the supporters of these two great clubs but also the neutral football supporter who is always up for a good game. The might of a Barcelona attacking trio that is on song and dismissed the German champions’ challenge less than a day ago against the dogged defense of the Italian champions sure provides for a tantalising fixture come 6 June.
This post has been written exclusively for TheHardTackle by guest author Nikhil Sreekandan.