Peruzzi secures Juventus triumph

EUROPEAN CUP FINAL: Italians' goalkeeper redeems himself with two saves in penalty shoot-out after handing Ajax their equaliser
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The Independent Online
Juventus have a European Cup this time savoured with scenes of joy rather than the sadness of tragedy. Eleven years after the Heysel disaster they overcame the holders, Ajax, 4-2 on penalties last night, a victory well deserved if ultimately achieved by that most unsatisfactory of solutions.

There was redemption, too, for the Juventus goalkeeper, Angelo Peruzzi. His error had given Jari Litmanen an equaliser for the Amsterdam club after Fabrizio Ravanelli had given Juve the lead, but his saves from Edgar Davids and Sonny Silooy in the shoot-out - Juventus emphatically converting their four needed - were ample amends.

After a absorbing first half, much of what followed was scrappy. Juventus were the more positive and potent, and they should have had the match won in regular play. They spurned two excellent chances in the dying minutes of normal time. After substitute Michele Padovano's penetrating run, the ball broke to Gianluca Vialli who went round the Ajax goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, but put the ball into the side-netting. A minute from time Padovano himself headed over when well placed.

Then in extra time a free-kick by Vladimir Jugovic was deflected just wide, Alessandro del Piero's shot was turned aside by Van der Sar and the goalkeeper clutched a shot on the turn by Vialli as the opportunities flowed and ebbed away.

Ajax appeared the more relaxed team at the outset, walking along the Juventus line to shake hands with each opponent. The expressions on the Italians' faces had told of tension but, as their approach to the game was soon to show, it also contained a fierce determination and a huge appetite for the match.

Quickly a corner by Del Piero was allowed to bounce by the Ajax defence and Pietro Vierchowod almost took advantage before the ball was cleared. Vialli then found Del Piero in a surprising amount of space, though Frank De Boer was quick to block the shot. A long-range attempt by the Portuguese Paulo Sousa was then scrambled away by Van der Sar only to Fabrizio Ravanelli, but he blazed the chance wide.

More indecision by the goalkeeper and this time a better finish - indeed a remarkable one - by Ravanelli saw the pressure rewarded and Juventus take the lead after 12 minutes. Frank De Boer dealt inconclusively with a high ball, but decided to leave it to Van der Sar who rushed from his line. In darted Ravanelli between them to steal the ball then steer home a shot from the tightest of angles.

The Juventus fans responded with flares; Ajax needed some flair. It was a struggle for them to find their rhythm. The Ajax system may be based on turning ready-made replacements out from their factory, but football remains a game based on quality of player rather than formation. The reorganisation forced by the suspension of Michael Reiziger and the decision to start Patrick Kluivert on the bench was taking time to bed in, with less forceful reserves such as Winston Bogarde and Kiki Musampa finding their feet.

In addition, Paulo Sousa and Didier Deschamps were in fighting mood in the Juventus midfield. Further back, though, the Italians looked nervous in defence and some hesitancy offered the Dutch encouragement. With the skilful Finn Jari Litmanen gradually beginning to assert himself, Ajax enjoyed a spell that eventually led to an equaliser.

First, Litmanen found Finidi George wide on the right and from his crossfield ball Musampa sent in a shot which Angelo Peruzzi held at his near post.

Danny Blind, whose calmness in defence was also transmitting itself through the team, then drove in a shot which deflected off Deschamps and Peruzzi had to tip over the bar.

The equaliser duly came four minutes before the break. Frank de Boer curled in a free-kick from 25 yards, but straight at Peruzzi. It should have been a comfortable save for Italy's goalkeeper. Nervously he elected to beat it away, however, and it bounced back into the six-yard box off the chest of Ciro Ferrara where Litmanen gathered, held off Vierchowod and stabbed the ball past the embarrassed Peruzzi.

The prediction of the Ajax coach, Louis Van Gaal, that Juventus might try to close the game down had proved accurate but it could only have been by instinct rather than design, for this is a team built not to do so; the defence is not good enough, the attack too good to be starved.

In the first half they had sought to break away, but in the second they sought to play to their strengths, which also involved a more robust approach to disrupt the Dutch.

Angelo di Livio, on as a substitute, was just wide with a shot immediately on his entry and now Ajax were the team looking to strike on the break. Kluivert had been introduced for the second half and looked a potential source. It had become a contest of cat and mouse again as the prize grew nearer.

Ajax (3-4-3): Van Der Sar; Silooy, Blind, Bogarde; R De Boer (Wooter, 91), F De Boer (Scholten, 68), Litmanen, Davids; George, Kanu, Musampa (Kluivert, h-t). Substitutes not used: Van Den Bergh, Grim (gk).

Juventus (4-4-2): Peruzzi; Torricelli, Ferrara, Vierchowod, Pessotto; Conte (Jugovic, 44), Sousa (Di Livio, 56), Deschamps, Del Piero; Ravanelli (Padovano, 77), Vialli. Substitutes not used: Porrini, Rampulla (gk).

Referee: M Diaz Vega (Spain).