Champions League Favourites: Juventus 95/96

1996; the last time Juventus won the UEFA Champions League. 22 years, it is a long time for a club of such repute and since then they have lost five successive finals. We should however, not dwell on past failures but venerate the successes. In 1996 Juve won their second Champions League title and also contributed to a hugely entertaining Serie A campaign.

Under Juve legend, Marcelo Lippi, they won the Scudetto the previous season by 10 points over Lazio, they also secured a domestic double with an aggregate victory against Parma in the Coppa Italia. Parma however gained revenge and denied Juve and Lippi the treble by lifting the UEFA Cup with a 2-1 aggregate victory.

There was much transfer activity at Juve during the summer of 1995; Vladimir Jugovic, Pietro Vierchowod and Atilio Lombardo all joined from Sampdoria, while Argentinean, Juan Pablo Sorin transferred from Argentinos Juniors and Gianluca Pessotto made the short journey across Turin from rivals, Torino. In a shocking move, but only to those outside the Stadio Delle Alpi, Roberto Baggio left to join Milan in a £7m deal. Juve’s hierarchy cited a switch of focus to rising star Alessandro Del Piero and Baggio wouldn’t be in their first team plans. A very bold risk considering Baggio was club captain and the current incumbent of the famous Juve number ten shirt, not to mention his fantastic record at Juve of 115 goals in 200 games. However, as we have subsequently learned Juve are not unaccustomed to selling their star players when a change of tactics or management arises.

French midfielder, Didier Deschamps and Italian international, Antonio Conte were the backbone of the midfield, their cunning and intelligence were the perfect foil for the creative abilities of Del Piero and Paulo Sousa. Gianluca Vialli was the perfect striker for Lippi’s tactic, his elusive style meant he could play at the head of the attack or deeper with Del Piero and he scored a range of goals; particularly when anticipating a pass or rebound and he was in lavish form during this season.

Juve made a fine start to the season with victories over Cremonese, Piacenza and Vicenza. Jugovic scored just 17 minutes into his debut against Cremonese, but Juve failed to win any of their next three games, and this run was rounded off with an away defeat to Milan. Two weeks later Juve were stunned 4-0 by Lazio in Rome, although Juve hit the woodwork twice. They were also beaten in extra time by Atalanta in the Coppa Italia and they capped off a miserable month by losing 1-0, away to Udinese.

Standing in seventh in Serie A the Champions League became a welcome distraction as Juve won their first four group games. Their campaign opened up against Borussia Dortmund in a repeat of the previous season’s UEFA Cup Semi Final. A fine 3-1 victory for Lippi’s men put them on the road to Rome, but it didn’t start well as former Juve player, Andreas Moller, opened the scoring inside a minute thanks to some questionable Juve defending. However, Juve secured victory with goals from Michele Padovano, Del Piero and Antonio Conte. Juve did the double over Rangers, 4-1 at home and 4-0 in Glasgow, Giancarlo Marocchi’s goal in the 90th minute at Ibrox was the pick of the goals; a superb low, curled effort from well outside the area. Juve also recorded a 3-0 home victory over Steaua Bucharest, with Del Piero scoring a trademark curling shot for the corner of the area. 12 points from 12 and a Quarter Final tie with Real Madrid awaited.

Juve went into December lagging behind the leaders but roared back into contention with a 5-0 derby victory over Torino. A stunning, first half Gianluca Vialli hatrick was the highlight in heated atmosphere of noise and pyrotechnics. The joy was short lived though and defeats to Sampdoria and Roma followed, although sandwiched in between was a Derby d’Italia win over Inter, with Vialli the match winner once again. Juve rounded off their Champions League group stage games with a goalless draw in a snowy Bucharest.

Juve’s indifferent league form carried into January 1996, twice they had to come from behind to salvage draws against the league’s lesser lights; Bari took a point back to Apulia and Cremonese were very unlucky not to claim all three points as an injury time Vierchowod equaliser gave Juve a share of the points in a 3-3 draw. Piacenza were seen off at the Delle Alpi before another defeat, away to Vicenza. This left Juve floundering in fifth place, 11 points behind the leaders, Milan. Inconsistency was costing Juve and Lippi’s men could ill afford to drop any more points.

The team responded magnificently, the Vicenza loss would be the penultimate one of the league campaign as Juve sparked into life in the spring. Successive victories over Cagliari and away to Napoli were followed up with a creditable draw at home to Milan. Juve visited Padova in March, just days before the resumption of the Champions League and they warmed up perfectly for their visit to Madrid with a 5-0 rout in Padua. Some less than professional defending helped Juve into an early lead but two stunning goals by Michele Padovano, eased Juve to victory. Both goals involved great team play; the first was all about power as he evaded a tackle on the edge of the area and struck past Adriano Bonaiuti. His second owed a lot to composure and timing as he ran on to a through ball and slid past the stranded goalkeeper.

The victory gave Juve some much-needed confidence as they headed to Madrid. However, the 1-0 loss was indicative of Juve’s season as they rarely showed anything to scare Real. In the end a Raul goal, after a neat counter attack, gave Real a slender lead to take back to Turin.

Juve’s season seemed to be slipping away after just 20 minutes of their next game, at home to Lazio. Goals from Giuseppe Favalli and Pierluigi Casiraghi gave Lazio a 2-0 lead. Didier Deschamps halved the lead at half time, courtesy of some horrific goalkeeping and Juve were given another helping hand courtesy of a Jose Antonio Chamot own goal, which brought them level. Juve finally had the lead with under 20 minutes left as Conte slotted the ball home after a neat one-two on the edge of the area and Padovano sealed the win with a strong run and classy poked finish just seven minutes from time. Juve kept pace with the leaders after a spirited fightback but it wouldn’t be the last time this season where they had a helping hand from the opposition.

The return leg with Real Madrid was next on the agenda and a passionate, hostile crowd awaited them in Turin. The emotion and zeal in the crowd fed down to the players and this led to a bad tempered game; both teams had a player sent off and there were seven cautions. However, Juve turned the tie with a wonderful first half free kick from Del Piero and Padovano (in my opinion a very underrated Juve player) completed the comeback with a powerful, low finish ten minutes into the second half.

Juve continued their renewed assault on the Scudetto with consecutive wins over title rivals, Fiorentina and Parma and a decisive derby win over Torino. Luck was definitely on the side of Juve as own goals gave them the points against Fiorentina and Parma, while another own goal saw Juve equalise in the Derby della Mole. The victory over Torino pushed the Bianconeri up to second and Milan’s lead was down to six points with six games remaining.

The last month of the season was shaping up to be tense and Juve lined up against Nantes in a rainy Turin for the first leg of the Champions League Semi Final. Vialli was at his predatory best as he gave Juve the lead from close range just after half time and The Old Lady were given a commanding 1st leg lead courtesy of a screamer from Jugovic with 25 minutes remaining. The French champions boasted a talented side and had only lost once on their way to the Ligue 1 title the previous season, but they were out played and their indiscipline let them down on the night as they had five booked and Bruno Carotti sent off.

Juve’s league hopes were still alive but hanging by a thread after a determined 2-1 home victory over Udinese was followed up by a 3-0 home loss to Sampdoria.

Next they made the journey to France for the Second Leg of the Champions League Semi Final. Nantes showed their true talent as they made Juve sweat despite being 3-0 down on aggregate after 17 minutes as Vialli poked home from six yards. Nantes replied with three goals to run Juve close, but a Paulo Sousa strike was neatly wedged in the middle to give Juve the slender aggregate victory a place in the Final in Rome.

Juve’s league inconsistencies struck as they showed their Dr Jekyll side once again with a magnificent 2-1 victory at the San Siro in the Derby d’Italia. A sweeping team move was rounded off by Lombardo after just 3 minutes and Conte’s stunning volley from the edge of the area ten minutes into the second half looked to have sealed the points and kept Juve’s title chances on track. However, the last ten minutes saw Juve goalkeeper, Angelo Peruzzi, struck by an object from the crowd and Inter forward, Maurizio Ganz, halved the deficit with ten minutes left to set up a nervous finish to the game. However, Mr Hyde was back a week later as they could only draw against Roma at the Olimpico. The game saw them 2-0 down before the hour, but a Massimiliano Cappioli own goal and a stunning strike from outside the area by Padovano salvaged the draw. Unfortunately for Juve, Milan’s 3-1 home victory over Fiorentina gave them the Scudetto. Juve rounded off the league season with a home win over Atalanta and an away draw at relegated Bari.

Of course Juve were back in Rome a few weeks later as they faced off against Louis van Gaal’s Ajax side. They had made the final by beating Panathiniakos and Borussia Dortmund in the knockout rounds and were a team peppered with present and future stars; Edwin van der Saar, the de Boer brothers, Edgar Davids, Jari Litmanen and Patrick Kluivert were in their 1996 final squad. Fabrizio Ravanelli opened the scoring after 12 minutes as a defensive mix up allowed him to score from a tight angle. The game was an entertaining spectacle, Vialli hit the crossbar in the second half, but in truth either side could easily have won. Litmanen equalised just before half time after Peruzzi spilled a routine save. In the end the game was decided by penalties, Juve scored all four of theirs while future Juve player, Davids, and Sonny Silooy missed theirs for Ajax.

Juve lifted the Champions League trophy for the second time and after their first triumph against the backdrop of the Heysel stadium disaster it was a much more joyous occasion. However, it wasn’t without controversy. A subsequent investigation based on an allegation of cheating by former Foggia and Lazio coach, Zdenek Zeman, found Juve club doctor, Riccardo Agricola, guilty of giving the Juventus players performance enhancing drugs, specifically EPO, which increases the haemoglobin levels in the blood and allows athletes to perform for longer. Agricola was given a suspended sentence but this was overturned on appeal. Several of the Ajax players from the 1996 Final have raised their own suspicions about the fitness and strength of the Juve players and investigations concluded between two and seven players were almost certain to have taken EPO during the 1990s. No Juventus players have been brought to trial and Juve have always denied any wrongdoing.

For Juve, the ultimate crown was lifted, one which has eluded them to this day. Their inconsistent league form allowed Milan to win the Scudetto, but the following season they would go one better under Lippi in Serie A, they also triumphed in the Intercontinental Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. Juve also reached their second successive Champions League final; unfortunately, it was the start of the finals sequence, which continues to haunt them.

By Dave Long with artwork by Johnny Mulholland

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