Juve's European disaster ignites fans' fury

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The Independent Online

When Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions' League by Barcelona last month, fans of the London club were, for the most part, philosophical. They had lost to high-quality opponents and could still look forward to winning a second successive Premiership title. Juventus are also on course to win back-to-back league titles but their Champions' League elimination by Arsenal on Wednesday night was greeted as a season-defining disaster by their fans and most of the Italian media.

Juventus are the great paradox of Italian football: a club with 11 million fans, very few of whom know the way to the Stadio delle Alpi. Spoilt by the ease with which the club collects Italian titles - this season's, if Juve do not collapse, will be the 29th - the fans do not see why the team cannot dispose of Europe's finest the way they steamroll the likes of Cagliari and Livorno.

The ferocity with which the fans turned on their team in the final stages of the game on Wednesday shocked everyone at the club, from the vice-president, Roberto Bettega, to the coach, Fabio Capello, and players. The chants and banners - "go and get a job... enough is enough, show us some balls" - would be unthinkable in a Champions' League quarter-final at grounds such as Highbury, Anfield or Old Trafford, whatever the score.

Bettega said that Juventus had been well beaten over the two legs by "an excellent team" and added that "as a true Juventino" he had to tell the fans that they had "missed an important opportunity to be close to their team".

What really rankled with the critics was not so much the 0-0 draw as the manner of it. The talk all week in Turin had been of Juventus hitting Arsenal like a hurricane. Instead, they put on the same kind of timid display which led to their elimination here last season by Liverpool at the same stage.

"We could have run exactly the same match report," the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper sniped. "The same atmosphere, the same gloomy expressions, the same sense of failure that once again accompanies Juventus on their European adventures."

Capello's tactics were heavily criticised, from his decision to drop the French defender Lilian Thuram in favour of Robert Kovac ("Kovac is more precise in his passing", was the coach's explanation), to the relentless use of the early long ball to the forwards Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Trezeguet. "To play in this primordial way, Juventus could have made do with an amateur coach, not an internationally renowned strategist" like Capello, the Turin-based newspaper Tuttosport suggested.

Juventus are already planning for next season and are targeting two defenders - Chelsea's William Gallas and Lazio's Massimo Oddo - to add to deals which have been done to bring in Parma's flying winger, Marco Marchionni, and Internazionale's midfield battler, Cristiano Zanetti, who played under Capello for two seasons at Roma.

Capello, 59, has one season to run on his contract with Juventus and will almost certainly stay for one more crack at the Champions' League. He will remain in Turin beyond that only if there are no attractive offers from England or Spain.

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