Stiff test for Juventus

TURIN: Juventus’ Champions League credentials face a stiff examination when they lock horns here with unbeaten Barcelona in today’s quarter-final, first-leg clash. 

After winning all six of their first group phase games, only a goalless draw at Inter Milan saw Barcelona drop points in the second phase. 

Juve’s form in Europe meanwhile contrasts starkly with that of their Spanish opponents.  

Italy’s league leaders would have been knocked out of the competition had they lost their penultimate second phase match against Deportivo La Coruna. 

Trailing 2-1 to the classy Spaniards, the reigning Italian champions were on the brink of an early exit, until late goals from David Trezeguet and Igor Todor rescued the two-time European champions. 

And with Juve’s dismal away record in the Champions League this season that has seen them win only once on their travels, Marcello Lippi’s men need to make home advantage count at the Delle Alpi Stadium. 

Barca midfielder Carlos Puyol refuses to be lulled into a false sense of security by Juventus’ stuttering European form, and is bracing himself for a tough match in northern Italy. 

“It will be a difficult tie against one of Europe’s best teams,” he said. 

“We have to keep our heads and try for a good result in Turin, but I think the tie will be decided in the second leg.” 

Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero admitted his side were far from their best, but was expecting a huge effort from the squad as the season enters the final straight. 

“We know we haven’t always played well, but we are top of the league in Italy and in the last eight of the Champions League,” he said. 

“We’re in the knock-out phase now, so we know we can’t afford to make mistakes. 

“I’m confident there is plenty more to come from the team and I see no reason why we can't make the semi-finals,” added Del Piero. 

Juventus striker Trezeguet has been ruled out of the match after damaging muscles in his left shoulder. 

The France international suffered the injury in Saturday’s 2-0 home win over strugglers Torino and is expected to be sidelined for a week. 

Pavel Nedved also limped off in the first-half of a bad-tempered Turin derby with an injured right thigh. 

The Czech Republic midfielder will undergo further examination to determine whether he is fit enough to face the Spaniards. 

Barcelona coach Raddy Antic admitted he would be glad not to have to face Nedved, who he regards as one of Europe’s best midfielders. 

“He is a player who can create something out of nothing,” he said.  

“His acceleration and change of rhythm are truly spectacular. 

“It’s better for us if he is not on the pitch on Wednesday.” 

Juve defender Lilian Thuram, who was left out against Torino because of stiff muscles following France’s European championship qualifiers, is expected to play from the start. 

Barcelona are sweating on the fitness of Dutch defender Frank De Boer who may have damaged ligaments in his right knee in Saturday’s Spanish Division One win over Villareal. 

Striker Patrick Kluivert missed Sunday’s training session after picking up a minor knock, but is likely to start against the Italians. – AFP 

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