Juventus set sights on top spot

Claudio Ranieri anxious to win group and ease passage in knockout stages
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The Independent Football

Juventus have been undefeated in their return to the Champions League after a two-season absence, and will play to win against BATE Borisov tonight in a match from which they need only a point to seal top spot in Group H, ahead of Real Madrid.

The Turin club have already guaranteed their passage to the knockout phase with home and away victories over Madrid, while Belarusian side BATE are already assured of finishing last in the group in their debut season.

"Even if a draw is all we need, we're going to play to win. That's our mentality," coach Claudio Ranieri said. "Finishing first is important for the standings and our image, but also because there are some pretty fearsome opponents waiting in the next round."

Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero was instrumental in both wins over Real, accounting for three of Juve's four goals in the fixtures – all from free kicks. However, with Del Piero out resting a minor thigh problem sustained during a 2-1 win over Lecce on Saturday, Sebastian Giovinco took advantage of a rare start and converted a free kick for his first Serie A goal with Juventus.

His run in the team could extend to tonight's Champions League encounter, as Ranieri may choose to prolong the senior player's spell on the sidelines with Sunday's match against Milan looming.

"The training exercises paid off," said Giovinco, who scored six goals on loan with Empoli last season. "I had already scored a few free kicks with the junior side, but Serie A is on a different level. I'm happy with how it went but you can't live on joy and glory. We've got to refocus right away on the next game. I'm ready for BATE."

Ranieri said he would discuss Del Piero's participation in tonight's Champions League match with the captain. "I'll speak personally with him and with the medical staff and we'll decide together what to do," said Ranieri.

Juve defender Mohamed Sissoko is suspended after collecting his third yellow card of the group stage against Zenit, and forward Vincenzo Iaquinta was left out of the squad due to injury. Midfielder Mauro Camoranesi is also likely to miss the game with a collar bone injury, although Cristiano Zanetti has returned after sitting out the first three months of the season.

Meanwhile, BATE are merely hoping to end their first season on a respectable note. Coach Viktor Goncharenko said a draw was probably the best he could hope for. "But that doesn't mean that we will hold back. Every match we play to win," he said.

BATE gave Juve a scare in September when Sergei Kryvets and Igor Stasevich scored before Vincenzo Iaquinta hit back to equalise in a 2-2 draw. But BATE have managed only 11 shots on goal in their five group games, the lowest total in the competition.

With the Belarusian season over, BATE have been training in Rome, and beat Serie B side Frosinone 1-0 in a friendly last week. "The main thing was that we kept ourselves in good form before the Juventus game," Goncharenko said.

The Belarusian season ended in November with BATE crowned champions. "We have had a fine season," Goncharenko said. "I have nothing to complain about. We won all the key fixtures when we had to win."

BATE are without long-term injury victim Vladimir Rzhevsky. The Russian defender broke his ankle in November. Rzhevsky's compatriot and defensive partner Anton Sakharov is nearing the end of his contract and has not flown to Italy. Midfielder Dmitry Likhtarovich has recovered from a clash of heads with Sergio Ramos when BATE lost 1-0 to Madrid in Minsk last month.