Can Juventus avenge their dire Champions League final record?

Having secured a place in this season’s Champions League semi-finals against holders Real Madrid, Juventus might dare begin to look beyond the Madrid and Turin dates with Los Merengues and on to Berlin itself for the final on Saturday, 6th June.

 

One thing that they will want to avoid, though, is reference to their record in finals in Europe’s blue riband competition. The Turin club, along with Bayern Munich, shares the unenviable record of having lost more finals than any other club in the history of the competition, with five defeats in the end of season showpiece.

Whereas Bayern have the sweetener of having won five of their ten final appearances, and collected their very own European Cup to boot, Juventus have won just twice in seven attempts.

Juventus’ first win in 1985 is always associated with the tragedy of Heysel, as Michel Platini’s match-winning penalty has long since been consigned to football’s endless list of curiosities and footnotes.

Eleven years later and Marcello Lippi had assembled one of the continent’s strongest and technically adroit units in-between the break-up of Sacchi’s Milan and the arrival of Guardiola’s Barcelona.

Lippi’s Juve, taking on Van Gaal’s Ajax in Rome, edged the final on penalties as Gianluca Vialli hoisted the famous old trophy aloft on a late, balmy Roman night.

The starting line-up on that evening was one of genuine vintage and a classic Lippi amalgam of strength, functionality and style: Angelo Peruzzi in goal, protected by a defence comprising Torricelli, Ferrara, Vierchowod and Pessotto.

A three man midfield consisted of Antonio Conte, Paolo Sousa and Didier Deschamps, while Ravanelli and Del Piero joined Luca Vialli up front.

When second-half substitute Vladimir Jugovic stroked home the winning penalty following Sonny Silooy’s miss for Ajax, it looked as though a real heavyweight presence had arrived, one that could dominate the European scene for seasons.

Lippi remained until 1999, and other appearances in the Champions League final did indeed come, although no further victory – and no third star on the shirt – has since been added.

Juventus’ tale of woe in European Cup and Champions League finals began on their first appearance in Belgrade in 1973. In front of a crowd of 89,484 in the Yugoslav capital, Juventus faced an Ajax team going for a hat-trick of victories in the competition.

With Ajax in a change strip of maroon and Juve in their traditional black and white, the Dutch champions narrowly edged a final which was effectively settled with a Johnny Rep header after four minutes.

Almost ten years later to the day, on 25th May 1983 in Athens, Giovanni Trapattoni’s team of highly fancied Italian World Cup winners, along with Michel Platini and Zbigniew Boniek, were sunk by a fine Felix Magath strike as Hamburg claimed their only – and Germany’s fourth – European Cup.

Supremely marshalled by legendary coach Ernst Happel, Hamburg displayed unbelievable resilience. Even now, at a distance of 32 years, it is difficult to comprehend just how Juventus lost that final with the team that Trapattoni had at his disposal that evening.

Alongside Zoff, Juventus featured world champions in the form of Cabrini, Gentile, Scirea, Bettega and Rossi. Still, in spite of the presence of the Italian national who’s-who, it was Magath’s eighth minute left-footed punt that decided the final.

Fast forward to 1997 and The Old Lady were reigning European champions, coming off the back of the previous year’s Roman victory and ready to defend the crown in Munich’s Olympic Stadium against Borussia Dortmund.

Lippi’s team had been strengthened by the arrival of Zinedine Zidane the previous summer while the side also featured Alen Boksic and Christian Vieri in attack, alongside the Uruguayan Paolo Montero in the centre of defence.

Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Dortmund caught Juventus cold on the night, as Zidane’s failure to escape Paul Lambert’s close attention and a Lars Ricken wonder goal gave Dortmund a maiden European title.

The eventual scoreline of 3-1 was a surprise given the virtual consensus among the game’s cognoscenti that the trophy was Juventus’ to lose.

 

Juventus and Lippi did not have long to wait before another tilt at the European crown. The following season was the turn of the Amsterdam Arena to host the final, where Juventus returned to face the Real Madrid of Jupp Heynckes.

Again, Juve had strengthened as Edgar Davids had been slotted in to the midfield while Inzaghi had been added to the attack. Once again Juventus floundered as a Predrag Mijatovic goal on the hour mark gave the European Cup back to Real Madrid after a 32 year absence.

Losing two finals in a row was a desperate setback for a club such as Juventus, although along the way they had convinced footballing opinion of their stature as a club and as a team under Lippi.

In both 1996/97 and 1997/98 they had also meted out valuable footballing lessons to the champions of England, Manchester United. As Ferguson began his gradual ascent to the summit of European football, he was not slow to acknowledge the debt he owed to Juventus in finally arriving there in 1999.

There had always been a healthy professional respect between Lippi and Ferguson, something which grew into genuine friendship between the two men. Of this, and Juventus, Ferguson observed:

For Man United education wise, Juve were the model for us, the teams of Lippi. They were the best, they gave us some beatings and our great moment in beating them in 1999 was the progress we wanted to make. Juventus was the model for that.

Lippi stood down in 1999 and was replaced by Carlo Ancelotti, as Ferguson finally overcame his great foes in Turin to reach the final in Barcelona.

Juventus next appeared in the Champions League Final in 2003, ironically in Manchester in an all-Italian final against Milan. By now Lippi was back in charge, desperately trying to avoid the ignominy of becoming the coach responsible for three final defeats.

In a tight, often tepid, encounter the game dragged on deep into the Mancunian night to be finally decided on penalties. Ancelotti, by now coaching his old team Milan, overcame his adversary Lippi when Andriy Shevchenko’s winning penalty signalled a sixth European crown for the rossoneri.

Beaten for the third time in a final, Marcello Lippi gained atonement of sorts in 2006 when he coached the Italian national team to World Cup victory in Berlin.

Although Juventus still have much work to do to overcome Real Madrid in the semi-final, they have done enough this season to suggest that an eighth final appearance is not unlikely.

If they do, they will hope that fortune smiles on them so that they avoid establishing an altogether more unwelcome record of six defeats in the final of the most prestigious club competition of them all.

Massimiliano Allegri’s modern Juventus have much to play for, as their retention of the Serie A title is all but assured. Adding ‘Old Big Ears’ to the Italian crown would be a perfect way to avenge some of the ghosts of the club’s European past.

Before that, however, there is the small matter of a date with the reigning champions and ten times winners Real Madrid.

Author Details

Gareth Bland

From Derbyshire in the English Peak District, Gareth also writes for cricketweb.net and the U.S. sites axs.com and examiner.com. A devotee of all things Busby and Stein, his other footballing interests include the Dutch, Spanish and Italian leagues, as well as the game in the Balkans and the history of the European Cup and Champions League.

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