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1998: When a rising Real faced a fading Juventus

June 3, 2017 1:58 PM
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There is nothing new, the book of Ecclesiastes says, under the sun and while there is a freshness to the Champions League Final on Saturday evening, it will not be the first meeting of the two clubs in such a situation.

19 years ago, in 1998, Juventus faced Real Madrid for Europe’s biggest prize in Amsterdam with the two teams on very different trajectories to today. Back then, the Bianconeri were the heavyweights, having qualified for the previous two finals. Famously, they won the competition in 1996, before losing out to Dortmund in 1997. Marcello Lippi’s side looked to be showing signs of reaching the end of their powers, so 1998 looked like a last chance.

By contrast, Los Merengues had not yet entered their Galacticos phase, and perhaps the most famous of those signings, and a man who has retained legendary status at both clubs, was still in black and white – Zinedine Zidane wore the number 21 shirt for the Italian side.

Juventus lined up in a 3-5-2 system, with young Mark Iuliano in the centre of the back three, Paolo Montero on one side and Moreno Torricelli playing his last game for the club on the other. It was a solid line-up, especially with Edgar Davids and Didier Deschamps in front of it, but Lippi had seen his side concede a number of goals on the way to the final.

Despite despatching Dynamo Kyiv and Monaco relatively easily in the knockout phase, Juventus had conceded six goals over the four games. Meanwhile their Spanish opponents had allowed their German opponents Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund just one goal, Stefan Beinlich’s opener in the first leg of the quarter final.

Jupp Heynckes’ side were not the free-scoring Real Madrid that they have become, and the 1998 final was their first since 1981, an almost unthinkable drought. They relied on Raul and Morientes for their goals, the latter the side’s top scorer with 12 in a disappointing La Liga season. His side operated with a more conventional (for the time) 4-4-2 system, though the midfield saw Raul sitting only slightly behind the forwards, on this occasion Fernando Morientes and Predrag Mijatovic, but with the combative Fernando Redondo doing the mopping up in the background.

For all this, it was a fairly open game, and Raul hit the post during a first half that saw Real Madrid stamping their authority on the game. Pegged by the Spanish side, Juventus found their best chances on the counter-attack, Angelo Di Livio seeing a promising run come to nought and Zidane flashing a shot wide before the break.

With the game still scoreless at the break, Lippi replaced Di Livio with Alessio Tacchinardi as he looked to gain control of the tie. The change worked. The second half was hardly a feast of flowing football, but a more compact Juventus looked better equipped to deal with the multi-pronged threat of Real, while the quality of the Bianconeri’s forward players ensured they created chances of their own – Filippo Inzaghi pulling a volley straight onto the hand of Bodo Illgner when he really should have done better.

Soon afterwards, he was given a predatory lesson by Mijatovic. A low Roberto Carlos cross-shot deflected into the Yugoslavian strikers path off Torricelli and, taking it under control instantly, he wove into space in the six yard box and lofted the ball into the roof of the net past Angelo Peruzzi. Madrid could sense their first European Cup for 32 years in the offing and refused to give up their grip on it.

Juventus continued to press and continued to look like they might score, never moreso than when Edgar Davids picked up the ball outside the area and through a mixture of dribbling quality and good fortune made his way to almost the penalty spot before unleashing a shot. It went straight into the grateful arms of Illgner.

In the end, even the addition of Daniel Fonseca and Antonio Conte could do nothing. Juventus were beaten, and their decline crystallised; they would only win an Intertoto Cup over the next three seasons, and have returned to the Champions League Final just twice since 1998, losing both times.

By contrast, 1998 was the first of the Champions League titles in five seasons for Real Madrid, who went on to re-establish themselves as one of the biggest clubs in world football.

In 2017, it is Juventus who are looking to prove they have the right to be considered as one of Europe’s elite, as the big prize has eluded the Bianconeri since 1996. Saturday night in Cardiff will give them the opportunity for one measure of revenge.


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