Once again, Juventus looking for European greatness

MILAN (AP) — Once again, Juventus is out to prove itself on the European stage.

The Italian champions, who host Monaco on Tuesday in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals after a 2-0 victory in the first match, are trying to reach their second final in three years.

“We deservedly occupy a position of prominence in Europe,” Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta said. “That’s also the result of having an important international mentality.

“The fact also that we’ve gone through this period as an experience has led us today to being among the best clubs in Europe.”

Former Juventus coach Antonio Conte famously bemoaned the difference between his team and the top European clubs when, in his last season in charge in 2014, he said: “When you sit in a restaurant where a meal costs 100 euros, you can’t think about eating with just 10 euros.”

However, with more or less the same squad, Juventus reached the Champions League final the following year and has continued to grow under Massimiliano Allegri.

No doubt the club has spent big — it splashed out an Italian-record 90 million euros ($100 million) to sign Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli in the offseason — but it has also spent shrewdly.

“I don’t think money is the only lever to achieve results,” Marotta said. “I think rather that there’s the need to have great competence within each club, great management and above all a great sense of belonging which comes from the ownership.”

There was widespread anguish among Juventus fans in 2014 when Conte was replaced by Allegri, who had been fired by AC Milan just a few months previously.

But Allegri guided the team to its first Champions League final in 12 years as well as back-to-back league and cup doubles and Juventus is now looking at a possible treble — and a first European title in more than two decades.

It could clinch an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title on Sunday when it visits closest challenger Roma. Juventus then meets Lazio in the Italian Cup final.

The players have been vocal in crediting Allegri with their fantastic season and their development under the master tactician.

“I feel a better player now thanks to Allegri,” Juventus defender Alex Sandro said. “He has helped me a lot, but so has the whole team and everyone associated with the club, the fans included. I am really lucky to be working every day in such a great environment.”

Juventus will again look to Higuain to lead its attack against Monaco, especially after the Argentina forward ended his negative streak with both goals in the first leg. Higuain hadn’t previously scored in a Champions League knockout match since 2013.

The 29-year-old Higuain netted again on Saturday, with a stoppage-time equalizer in the 1-1 draw against Torino.

“We know that every time Higuain gets the ball, you’re halfway there to scoring a goal,” Alex Sandro said. “He’s a great champion, and his main strength lies in his head. He’s about as mentally tough as they get.”

A key to Juventus’ season has been its defense. And the BBC of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini earned yet more plaudits after another stingy display in Monaco.

Juventus has not conceded in 621 minutes in Europe, since a 3-1 victory at Sevilla in November.

“Let’s hope,” Chiellini said, “that will last for another 180 minutes.”

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