Ronaldo and Tevez - from friends to foes
Once teammates, Tevez and Ronaldo will be plotting each other's downfall in Turin
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
JUVENTUS v REAL MADRID
(Tomorrow, 2.40am, Singtel TV Ch 111)
On a cool night in Moscow, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez once delivered the Champions League for each other.
In 2008, they shared a Manchester United jersey and insatiable ambition. They divided their responsibilities and conquered.
Tevez failed to score during the European final against Chelsea, but Ronaldo did. Ronaldo missed his penalty during the shootout, but Tevez converted.
They bore the burden together, winning their first Champions League medals.
Both men will again share a Champions League pitch tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
The quest remains the same, but the responsibilities are very different. They are greater.
Neither Ronaldo's Real Madrid nor Tevez's Juventus can win without their main man.
Since they left United, their paths deviated, with varying degrees of success along the way, but they meet again at a roadblock. Only this time, the barrier is the other man.
Both Ronaldo and Tevez spearhead sides whose continental progress has been facilitated in large part by the meanest defences.
In the Champions League, Real Madrid are miserly masters on the road, keeping out all and sundry for 444 minutes of playing time. The last side to breach the back four was Ludogorets Razgrad on Oct 1.
The Italian side are no less impressive. Across 10 games, they shipped five goals and kept six clean sheets. For good measure, they wrapped up the Serie A at the weekend with only 19 goals in their against column after 34 games.
Defensive errors are like Halley's Comet. They do exist, but are rarely witnessed.
The onus is on former United colleagues to break the deadlock. Fortunately, both forwards are in the form of their lives.
Ronaldo scores with the freedom of a Hollywood actor playing a superhero, doing as he pleases against a green screen backdrop before his CGI opponents are drawn in later.
He goes past them as if they are not really there, the only moving part on a screen filled with static fakes.
At the weekend, Ronaldo beat Sevilla on his own, scoring twice to knock them down and then adding a third when they had the temerity to fight back.
In his cartoonish scoring competition with Lionel Messi, Ronaldo leads with 42 in La Liga, two ahead of the Argentinian. Both are moving beyond logic and into a computer game of their own making, scoring whenever the mood takes them.
But Juventus' back four are an entirely different proposition, defending their wall like over-zealous extras in Game of Thrones.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri rested Giorgio Chiellini for the title-deciding victory over Sampdoria to ensure his veteran was ready to resume his outstanding partnership with Leonardo Bonucci.
Ronaldo didn't score against Atletico Madrid in the previous round, but he did finally break them down after three hours of trying, providing the killer ball for Javier Hernandez's tap-in.
Turin offers a sterner test still, as it did for Tevez when he joined Juventus.
His initial outings at the Grand Old Lady two years ago were dismissed as foolish blind dates between old-timers, with an ageing man in a pitiful search for his lost mojo.
Tevez was a washed-up whiner when he slipped out of Manchester City, out of sight and soon out of mind; a bittersweet experience for both parties.
The then 30-year-old was reportedly finished; an insufferable brat banished from both club and country.
But the unexpected happened. Tevez didn't reinvent himself. He regressed. He returned to that scampering, irrepressible, likable terrier; the little battler who once kept West Ham in the Premier League and steered Manchester United towards Champions League glory.
The incredible sulk of Manchester City vanished and the penalty box workaholic nicknamed "Apache" appeared in his place.
With 20 Serie A goals, the 31-year-old should be the first Juventus player to finish top scorer since Alessandro del Piero in 2008.
His prolific form steered Juve to a fourth consecutive Scudetto and earned a recall to the Argentina national side.
Right now, Tevez represents his club's best chance of nipping behind Real's defence.
Teammate Patrice Evra recognises this incarnation of the Apache. He played in the Champions League final with him for United.
So did Ronaldo.
And, as it was in Moscow, this Champions League contest will be determined by the narrowest of margins.
It's up to Ronaldo and Tevez to squeeze between the lines.
But, on this occasion, there's only room for one.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE STATS
Shots per game
Shots per game
Pirlo: We'll play without fear
Andrea Pirlo PHOTO: AFP
Juventus playmaker Andrea Pirlo insists his team will face Champions League-holders Real Madrid without fear.
Less than 48 hours after clinching their fourth successive Serie A crown, Juve are re-focusing their efforts on Europe, where they are hoping to reach their first Champions League final since 2003.
Standing between them and a place in the showpiece, though, are Spanish giants Real, who were crowned European champions for a record 10th time last season.
It is a tough test for Juve, who are still in the running for the treble this season, but Pirlo is in optimistic mood ahead of tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) first leg in Turin.
"We have the same chances as they do to progress," the 35-year-old said.
"We weren't ready for the Champions League in previous years. But this team have gained experience and we know we can do well and play without fear.
"Now that we are here, we want to go all the way. To win it would be a dream come true, for me and for my teammates."
Juve are unbeaten at home in European competition this season and have won five and lost just one of their seven meetings with Real in Turin.
The previous time the two superpowers met in Italy was in last season's group stages, with the game ending 2-2.
"The first leg is crucial and we'll need to play with intelligence as we have done in recent years," Pirlo said.
"We'll be mindful but also show some swagger, because we have a dream to fulfil and nothing to lose, but also be aware that there's a second leg to follow."
The hosts will be without midfielder Paul Pogba, who has been sidelined since March with a hamstring injury.
Meanwhile, Juventus stressed that Carlos Tevez is not for sale and they expect the Argentine striker to honour his contract with the club.
Reports in Italy claimed Tevez was looking to leave the Turin giants this summer to return to Argentina, despite having one year left on his contract.
"I know that in his career he has moved a lot and that he is nostalgic about his country," said Juventus general director Giuseppe Marotta. "However, there are no premises for interrupting his contract which expires in 2016."
Real go into the contest without the services of midfielder Luka Modric and striker Karim Benzema because of injuries, as they look to end a run of seven successive trips to Italy without a win.
However, Ancelotti does have Gareth Bale back, with the Wales international coming on as a second-half substitute in last Saturday's 3-2 triumph at Sevilla, after recovering from a calf injury suffered in the Champions League quarter-final clash against Atletico Madrid.
Real, who are two points behind leaders Barcelona in La Liga with three games remaining, are confident they can bring home a positive result against one of Ancelotti's former clubs tomorrow morning.
Ancelotti was in charge of Juve from 1999 until 2001 before joining Milan.
"We have an Italian coach who knows Juventus very well," Real midfielder Toni Kroos said.
"That will help us. We are going to do all that we can to reach the final, knowing that no club have managed to defend the Champion League crown.
"This is our biggest challenge of the year." - PA Sport.