Football

Juve project still in its infancy: Pirlo

Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo said his project in Turin is still in its early days and will continue despite his side crashing out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage on away goals against 10-man Porto on Tuesday (March 9).

Juventus won 3-2 after extra time on the night, but were knocked out of the Champions League at the same stage as last season after a 4-4 aggregate draw. That was despite playing against 10 men for much of the game after Porto’s Mehdi Taremi was sent off in the 54th minute.

Their failure to reach the quarter-finals was remarkably similar to last season’s exit to Lyon on away goals, with coach Maurizio Sarri sacked at the end of the campaign despite winning a ninth-straight Serie A title for the Turin giants.

For all their domestic dominance, Juve have won just two European Cups compared to Italian rivals AC Milan’s seven. Champions League glory is what the club crave, but Pirlo is adamant his journey as a coach is just beginning.

“I don’t know if Sarri was sacked for being eliminated from the Champions League,” Pirlo told Sky Sport Italia.

“I am the Juventus manager at the moment and I will work for a larger project, which goes beyond this season. This season is only the beginning of this project. We have young players who are growing game after game. The young players have played with desire and self-denial. We cannot say anything to them, they have given their all.”

After falling behind in the first half to a Sergio Oliveira strike, a double from Federico Chiesa, either side of Taremi’s dismissal, seemed to set Juve on their way to victory, but they could not find a crucial third, leaving the sides all square after normal time.

Pirlo’s side continued to press in extra time, but one free-kick, through the wall, from Oliveira condemned Juve to their fate, despite Adrien Rabiot scoring a third for the Italian side soon after.

The blow leaves Juve with just Serie A glory to play for – and they trail leaders Inter Milan by 10 points, though they have a game in hand.

“I’m not happy to have to work with full weeks without European games, I preferred to go on in the Champions League,” Pirlo said.

“But when you make four big errors over two legs in the Champions League last 16, you can get eliminated. To forget this elimination will take a few days, but then we will have to look forward and try to move up the (Serie A) rankings. We are still in March.”

Veteran Porto defender Pepe credited his team’s resolute defending and resolve which ensured Juventus’ Champions League heartache, stretching back 25 years, will continue.

“The work of the whole team was important to go through in a manner that was fully deserved,” said the 38-year-old Pepe.

“It’s hard to explain by words the way we managed to react (playing with 10 men). Today, we showed lots of character: the players were focused and that made it easy for us.”  – REUTERS, AFP

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