Champions League

FIVE Juve players to watch in CL final

2015-06-04 13:00
Andrea Pirlo (AFP)

Cape Town - Barcelona's attack of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar doesn't scare Juventus.

That's because the Italian champion has a trio of its own - Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini - who make up one of the meanest defenses in Europe.

The three of them are a tight unit, marshalling the back together for club and country for several years, and if they deal with Messi in the Champions League final on Saturday in Berlin as effectively as they controlled Cristiano Ronaldo in the semifinals against Real Madrid, Juventus could pull off a cup treble of its own.

Happy underdogs for the final, five Juve players are worth an extra eye:

CARLOS TEVEZ

You would have been hard pressed a year ago to find anyone believing Tevez would fire Juventus to a Champions League final. Not only had the club crashed out at the group stage last season, but Tevez hadn't scored in the competition for more than five years.

The transformation this season has been huge. He has seven goals in the league, adding to 20 in the Serie A, and two in the Italian Super Cup.

"He has really taken us to another level, he is a great champion, who is often misjudged," Juventus teammate Claudio Marchisio said.

"He has always been a team player, he has worked so hard, and has become a reference point, on the field and in the dressing room. He is a really important rock. I hope he can be especially so on Saturday."

GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon has won almost every trophy in a 20-year career — including the 2006 World Cup at the same stadium in Berlin as the Champions League final.

But he's never won the Champions League. His one previous final, in 2003, was lost to AC Milan.

"It's not my last year as a player so this won't be my last chance," Buffon said. "There's always a chance while you're playing, and while you feel inside yourself the desire to go out and perform because you know you still have the ability."

Buffon, aged 37, keeps making astonishing saves, enough for coach Massimiliano Allegri to say his captain ought to receive the Ballon d'Or. He finished second to compatriot Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.

Shutting out Messi, Neymar, and Suarez would do his cause no end of good.

The world's best goalkeeper has never been tested by the world's best outfield player, as Buffon has never played against Messi.

He has faced Suarez twice, in the Europa League and at last year's World Cup, and shut him out. Neymar scored once against Buffon, with a free kick for Brazil at the 2013 Confederation's Cup.

ANDREA PIRLO

Like Buffon, Andrea Pirlo is returning to the scene of Italy's World Cup triumph. However, unlike his Juventus and Italy teammate, Pirlo's equally impressive haul of trophies includes two Champions Leagues won while at AC Milan.

Pirlo is one of the most admired midfielders in the world. Having just turned 36, he no longer surges from midfield but still sets up goals with passes of breathtaking accuracy.

He is also so much of a free kick specialist that any such situation, within 30 yards of goal, is coined "Pirlo territory."

PAUL POGBA

At the other end of the age scale to Pirlo is fellow midfielder Paul Pogba, who has become a mainstay since his move from Manchester United in 2012. Still only 22, the final is a chance for the world to admire the France international.

"It's a dream come true," said Pogba, who has been the subject of intense transfer speculation. "I'm very happy with how things have gone here. I don't regret anything."

After missing the quarterfinal against Monaco and the first leg against Real Madrid injured, Pogba put in some lethargic performances, and was criticized by Allegri for showboating.

"Sometimes my attitude looks ... it doesn't mean I'm showing off, I'm just playing my football," Pogba said. "What the coach is saying is the truth. I have to be focused 90 minutes.

"It may look like I'm taking things easy, but it's not like that at all. When I hear these things, it gets to me. I want to prove that what people are saying or thinking is wrong."

ALVARO MORATA

Morata helped Real Madrid last season to its 10th Champions League trophy then transferred from his boyhood club to Juventus.

The Spain forward scored in both legs of the semifinal against his old club but didn't celebrate out of respect. That wouldn't be the case if he netted against Barcelona.

"I would love to do so but I know how hard it will be," he said. "It's Barca, so it would be even more special for me, as it's the eternal rival of Madrid. Of course I would celebrate, but what matters is to win, it matters little to me who scores."

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