LESS than ten years ago, Juventus were battling for survival in Serie B, tainted by an Italian football scandal.
The comeback has been spectacular and could be crowned by the biggest prize in club competitions when they tackles Barcelona in tonight’s Champions League final in Berlin.
Juve are back in the final for the first time since 2003, having already completed a domestic double by winning the Italian championship and the Coppa Italia.
The Turin team are also playing their first Champions League final since being demoted to Italy’s second-tier in the wake of the “Calciopoli” match-fixing scandal in 2006.
After being revealed to have influenced referees’ decisions, Juventus were stripped of their 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles and relegated from the top flight.
Veteran Gianluigi Buffon, still keeping goal for Juventus today, returned home in 2006 after winning the World Cup with Italy at the Berlin Olympic stadium – the venue of tonight’s final – to play in the second division with Juventus. Alessandro Del Piero, another star of the time, also stood by his team and Juventus were back in the top flight after one season.
The reputation of the northern Italian team has gradually been restored, with the club winning the last four Italian tiles. It now has a shot at lifting the European Cup for the first time since 1996. The arrival of midfield strategist Andrea Pirlo from AC Milan in 2011 coincides with the latest successes.
Juventus were perceived by many as the weakest of the four semi-final teams this season, but progressed thanks to a 3-2 aggregate victory over Real Madrid, who won a record 10th European Cup crown last year.
“We have had an incredible season, almost never to be repeated,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “It will be a season which goes down in history as it’s rare for a team to challenge on all three fronts right to the end. Now there’s one more final left and we have to be good to bring it home. And also lucky. It’s extraordinary to have got there, now let’s see if we can make this season even more extraordinary.”
Juventus have won the European Cup twice before. The first time came in 1985, but instead of celebration that match ended in tragedy at Heysel.
Fan violence left 39 people dead, most of them Juventus fans. The final went on and Michel Platini, now UEFA president, scored from a penalty to give Juventus a 1-0 win over Liverpool.
Defender Leonardo Bonucci said the 30th anniversary would be an extra motivation for Juventus players. “I went to the memorial service last week. If we win, we will dedicate it to those who died that night,” Bonucci said.
In 1996, Juventus won the final on penalties, 4-2 over Ajax. In 2003, Juventus lost to AC Milan, also on penalties.