Juve want to avoid Real on return to last 16
MILAN (AFP) –
Former two-time winners Juventus hope to avoid being drawn with Real Madrid when they end a three-year absence from Europe’s top football table and join the last 16 of the Champions League.
Juve secured qualification for the knockout phase with a narrow 1-0 win away to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.
The win allowed Juve to finish top of Group E on 12 points, giving them home advantage in the second leg of their last 16 match-up against any one of six sides including Real Madrid and Celtic.
Assistant coach Angelo Alessio admitted he would “like to avoid” Real Madrid but club president Beppe Moratta said the Turin giants were ready to meet any side after having routed Chelsea 3-0 at home and humbled Shakhtar in Ukraine.
“We’ve come through a tough group, winning the last two games against European champions Chelsea and the revelation of the tournament, Shakhtar,” Moratta told the club’s website www.juventus.com.
“Our self-esteem has increased with each game and we’ve shown that we can compete with anyone. There’s no point playing the guessing game about the draw, but one thing that’s important is we have the return leg at home.”
Because they are not allowed to meet fellow Italian side AC Milan nor Shakhtar in the next round, Juventus will be drawn with one of the teams that finished second in the other groups when it is held on Friday.
Swiss winger Stephan Lichsteiner, whose cross led to Olexandr Kucher’s 56th minute own goal and Juve’s 1-0 win on Wednesday has a preference already.
“They would all be great fixtures against tough opponents,” said Lichtsteiner. “Personally I would like to play Celtic.”
Juventus’s return to the lucrative knockout phase comes three years after the Bianconeri were knocked out on aggregate by Chelsea, whose hopes of defending their title were ended by the Bianconeri’s victory in Ukraine.
The victory is likely to be celebrated even more fervently in Turin as it coincides with the end of coach Antonio Conte’s ban.
Conte was handed the ban at the start of the season for his role in a match-fixing affair while with his former club Siena. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
Conte will return to the touchline — from where assistant Angelo Alessio has been running the show — for this weekend’s Serie A fixture away to Palermo.
While it remains to be seen how Juve fare once Conte returns to the touchline, Alessio told Sky Italia: “We’re happy with our qualification and the way we qualified. We’re also happy to welcome back Antonio Conte for Palermo.”
Asked who he would prefer as opponents in the knockout phase, Alessio said: “For me there is no preference, but there is one team I’d like to avoid: Real Madrid.”
Although back among the elite of European club football, meeting and beating Real Madrid appears to be a step too far for the Italian champions.
Defender Giorgio Chiellini said “we proved that we can challenge anyone in Europe”, but “it would be a pity for us to finish top of the group and draw Real Madrid.”