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Juve bid to finish job against Ajax, United eye Camp Nou comeback

Updated April 16, 2019

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TURIN: Juventus players run during a practice session at the Juventus Training Center on Monday, ahead of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg against Ajax.—Reuters
TURIN: Juventus players run during a practice session at the Juventus Training Center on Monday, ahead of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg against Ajax.—Reuters

TURIN: Cristiano Ronaldo will spearhead Juventus’ old guard as they look to finish the job on Tuesday against Ajax’s impressive young guns in a quarter-final clash between two sides desperate to end years of Champions League heartbreak.

Juventus have the edge on away goals thanks to Ronaldo’s 125th Champions League goal in a 1-1 draw in Amsterdam, but Ajax’s David Neres ensured the teams will start on a knife-edge in Turin in a repeat of the 1973 and 1996 finals.

Juventus have put their bid to wrap up an eighth consecutive Serie A title on the back burner as they focus on their European ambitions.

“The Scudetto will come sooner or later,” said Allegri, whose side hold a 17-point lead on second-placed Napoli with six games left.

“If we had put all our starters in, it would have been easier to win it, but there is the goal to obtain on Tuesday.”

Captain Giorgio Chiellini, however, remains a doubt with the 34-year-old defender recovering from a calf injury, with Daniele Rugani a possible replacement.While Juve are looking to reach a third semi-final in five seasons, Ajax have not made it to the last four since 1997.

Juventus have won the Champions League twice, most recently in 1996 when they beat Ajax in the final.

Four-time winners Ajax won their third consecutive title in 1973 at the expense of Juventus, last lifting the trophy in 1995.

Allegri said he was prepared for “a difficult match against a very impressive team”.

But Ronaldo remains Juve’s key weapon.

He has scored five goals this campaign, one against Manchester United and a hat-trick which rescued Juventus in the last-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid, before returning from injury to score against Ajax.

Ajax’s strike-force of 22-year-old Neres, Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech have proven effective this season.

But midfielder Frenkie de Jong, 21, is uncertain to start after going off clutching his hamstring.

The winners would go through to a semi-final against the winners of the all-English tie between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

While Ronaldo has featured and won in the last three Champions League finals, it’s been four years since his closest rival Lionel Messi last reached the competition’s semi-final and his drought has become a source of unease for Barcelona ahead of their latest attempt on Tuesday.

Manchester United are the ones looking to emulate Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Roma by sending Barca out in the quarters for a fourth year running but for the Catalans, another failure would be unforgivable, not least because of the implications for their captain.

Barcelona’s dominance in Spain has been shaped by Messi, who only this month overtook Iker Casillas as the player with the most La Liga victories, 335, in its history.

But in Europe, Barca would appear under-marked, with only one success in the last seven years, three in 10 since Pep Guardiola took charge in 2008 and set in motion what has felt, in playing terms at least, like an iconic era.

“Last season we did the double but we all felt bad about how it went in the Champions League,” Messi said in August. “We promise this season we will do all we can to bring that beautiful cup back to Camp Nou.”

While Barca look to regain dominance at the continental level, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be eyeing a comeback at the Camp Nou.

United arguably have the toughest task of the eight quarter-finalists heading into the second legs this week, having lost 1-0 to Messi’s Barcelona at Old Trafford.

During his four months as United manager, Solskjaer has made a point of reminiscing about the old days at the club, when no deficit felt insurmountable. Comebacks and late goals were a regular thing under his then-manager and mentor, Alex Ferguson.

So it didn’t come as a surprise that, straight after the first leg, Solskjaer was buoyant about United’s chances of advancing.

“We’ve scored goals at the Nou Camp before from corners and crosses ... we can do it, no doubt about it.”

United have beaten Juventus and Paris St Germain away in this season’s Champions League, but Solskjaer said getting past Barcelona would be a “greater achievement.”

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2019