By Brian Homewood
HAVING battled to break down one of Europe’s meanest defences in the quarter-finals, Real Madrid will have to do it all over again when they face Juventus in their Champions League semi-final.
The defending champions took just under three hours to break down Atletico’s resistance in the previous round, wining 1-0 on aggregate with a goal in the 88th minute of the second leg.
On Tuesday (9.45pm), they face a Juventus side who were crowned Serie A champions on Saturday with four games to spare after conceding only 19 goals in 34 games.
Juve’s defence has been just as impressive in the Champions League with only five goals against in ten games and six clean sheets.
However, Juventus are also a more refined outfit than Atletico, less prone to rough-arm tactics and capable of coming out and attacking depending on the circumstances.
Central defenders, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, have been playing together for four seasons for both Juventus and Italy, winning four successive Serie A titles.
“I think we have the best defence,” Bonucci said ahead of their semi-final first leg against Real. “We know and understand each other perfectly after playing together for so long.”
The question is whether it is good enough to withstand a Real Madrid attack led by the prolific Cristiano Ronaldo, who sounded another warning by firing his 25th La Liga hat-trick in the 3-2 win over Sevilla on Saturday.
Juventus will also have to worry about breaking down Real’s defence, which has not conceded an away goal in the competition since their 2-1 win at Ludogorets Razgrad on October 1, a total of 444 minutes’ playing time.
Although Juventus are the dominant force domestically, Italian football has been in the doldrums for several years and they cannot compete with Real’s spending power.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Juventus last played in the semi-finals 12 years ago when, coincidentally, they also faced Real and won 4-3 on aggregate.
The only two surviving players from those ties are the respective goalkeepers Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas.
Altogether, Juventus and Real have met 16 times before, all in the European Cup/Champions League, since their first meeting in the 1961/62 quarter-finals.
Those games have included one in the final in 1998, when Real Madrid won 1-0 to claim their seventh title. The most recent was in the group stage last season when Real won 2-1 at the Bernabeu and drew 2-2 in Turin.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, who has surpassed expectations in his first season at the club, was happy to accept the underdogs’ role.
“It’s not every day you get to play Real Madrid so we have to keep our heads to reach the final. If we don’t get there, it’ll be expected,” he told reporters.
“We are among the top four teams in Europe, have won the Scudetto and are in the Coppa Italia final. Nobody would have bet on us at the start of the season.
“Many thought we would be eliminated in the group stage but instead we are facing the reigning champions for a place in the final.”