Football

Buffon: Winning CL equal to winning World Cup

Juventus veteran says winning Champions League is equal to World Cup glory

SEMI-FINAL, 2ND LEG
JUVENTUS MONACO
  • Juventus lead 2-0 from first leg

He has won seven Serie A crowns with Juventus, the Uefa Cup with Parma and the 2006 World Cup with Italy, but one title proves elusive for Gianluigi Buffon.

In an illustrious career spanning 22 years, the 39-year-old goalkeeper has yet to lay his hands on the Champions League trophy, after ending up on the losing side in 2003 (lost to AC Milan on penalties) and in 2015 (lost to Barcelona 3-1).

Buffon is two matches away from realising his lifelong dream, as he leads his Juventus side into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Monaco tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

His heroics earned the Old Lady a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, and he is keen to make it third time lucky by going all the way to the final in Cardiff on June 3.

And, if he goes on to win the final, it will rank as his "greatest joy in his career", alongside his achievement of winning the World Cup with the Azzurri in 2006.

GREATEST JOY

"It would mean a lot for me. It would be the greatest joy of my career, together with the (2006) World Cup, because it would almost be a reward - the end of a very difficult road paved by bravery, stubbornness and hard work," Buffon told uefa.com, when asked what it would mean to him if he won the Champions League title with Juventus.

"I have always wanted to win it and I have always been convinced that I can do it together with my team, the fans, my colleagues.

"And since I have been disappointed so many times, I want to get the victory before allowing myself to celebrate!"

First, Buffon and Co. will have to get past Monaco, who will have to make history in tomorrow morning's return leg if they are to end Ligue 1's long absence from the final.

“Since I have been disappointed so many times, I want to get the victory before allowing myself to celebrate!”Juventus veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, on winning the Champions league title. he had lost in two previous finals (2003 and 2015)

Only two teams have ever won a knockout tie in the competition after losing at home in the first leg and, in both cases - Ajax Amsterdam against Panathinaikos in 1996 and Inter Milan against Bayern Munich in 2011 - they had only a one-goal deficit.

Monaco, who themselves were the last French side to reach the final when they lost to Jose Mourinho's Porto in 2004, would also have to end Juve's four-year unbeaten home record in Europe and a run of six successive clean sheets in the competition.

Monaco have never won a game in Italy in seven attempts, while Juve's record against French teams will not give them much encouragement either.

The Italian giants have won all previous 11 knockout ties against Ligue 1 opponents, including Monaco on two occasions.

Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim, whose side won 3-0 at Nancy on Saturday to close in on the Ligue 1 title, said that an early goal could change the complexion of the tie.

"We have to stay confident, try to play our game and put on a good performance and, if we score at the start of the game, maybe that could change things," he said.

If there is one thing which gives Jardim hope, it is Monaco's prolific scoring record this season.

They have blasted 139 goals in 55 matches in all competitions, not including the French League Cup, and have managed three or more goals in a match on 25 occasions.

Kylian Mbappe, 18 and one of the hottest properties in European football, has scored 18 goals in his last 20 competitive games, while the team feature other dangerous players including resurgent Colombian forward Radamel Falcao.

To have any chance of progressing to the Cardiff showpiece, they would first have to find a way past the infatigable Buffon, something they failed to do in the first leg. - WIRE SERVICES

Five talking points

1) CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

Juventus have not conceded in Europe since their 3-1 group-stage win at Sevilla in November. That means the Bianconeri have protected their clean sheet for over 700 minutes on the continent.

Credit goes mostly to veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and the defensive trio of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, with all four men set to start against Monaco.

2) ALL-OUT ATTACK

Plotting to breach Juventus' imposing wall will be Monaco's prolific strikeforce, which comprises teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe and veteran hitman Radamel Falcao.

Both strikers fired blanks back at the Stade Louis II, but the 18-year-old Mbappe has proven himself as a continental force, scoring three goals across the quarter-final triumph over Borussia Dortmund.

He will be raring to go after being rested for last Saturday's Ligue 1 victory at Nancy while Falcao is bidding to end a three-game drought by adding to his 28-goal haul in all competitions.

3) KHEDIRA QUANDARY

Massimiliano Allegri made the right choice when he opted to support Claudio Marchisio with right back Dani Alves in midfield when Sami Khedira was suspended for the Monaco trip.

Marchisio is more of a passmaster than a ball-winner and Alves certainly helped in that department, while also setting up both of Gonzalo Higuain's goals.

Khedira is available again, but Juve boss Allegri could be tempted to omit him. With the German in the middle of the park, they have drawn back-to-back Serie A matches.

4) DOMESTIC DISTRACTION

This Champions League clash comes before a potentially decisive weekend for both clubs.

On Monday morning (Singapore time), Monaco host Lille knowing a victory, coupled with a Paris St Germain defeat at St Etienne, will practically hand them the Ligue 1 title based on goal difference.

If Juve avoid defeat by Roma in the Italian capital, they will clinch a sixth straight Scudetto.

However, both sides will need to keep their focus on Europe first. - PA SPORT

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