ROME (AP) — Juventus can celebrate the first of two titles won over the space of four days inside Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
Debt-ridden AC Milan wants to justify its preseason spending spree and take home a trophy ahead of likely punishment from UEFA for financial fair play violations.
What’s at stake is vastly different for the two clubs competing in Wednesday’s Italian Cup final.
Juventus is looking to become the first club to win four straight Italian Cups. Then on Sunday, it needs only a draw at Roma to clinch a record-extending seventh consecutive Serie A title.
“We want to win everything,” Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic said. “We’ve exited the Champions League, we’re in good position in the league and the cup is another objective.”
Following an exhausting Serie A contest with Napoli and an emotional loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals, Juventus will have to dig deep for energy.
“Both squads are at the end of a long season and you start to feel the fatigue. But when you always find the energy you need when you play a final,” said Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado. “But compared to the league matches, we’re going to be facing an entirely different squad — one that will do anything to win.”
Juventus won both of its league meetings with Milan this season — by a combined score of 5-1. But Milan provided a challenge in their most recent match, getting an early equalizer from former Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci, before Cuadrado and Sami Khedira scored late goals in a 3-1 Juventus win.
Milan is seeking its first trophy since being taken over by Chinese ownership a year ago, and a title would give the Rossoneri something to show for after purchasing an entire squad’s worth of new players.
For Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu, however, the importance of the match is due to another factor: It’s the first final of his career.
“It’s undoubtedly the biggest game of my career and I feel ready for it,” said Calhanoglu, who has scored two goals and set up another while helping Milan win its last two Serie A matches. “I want to win this cup. I feel I’m in top condition.”
Milan is a five-time Italian Cup champion but hasn’t won the competition since 2003. Gennaro Gattuso, who was an integral player on that squad, has made a big impact since being hired as coach in November.
Just ask Calhanoglu, a 24-year-old Turkey international who previously played for Hamburger SV and Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, where he was born.
“He changed my mentality and helped me understand the Italian mindset,” Calhanoglu said of Gattuso. “He enabled me to regain my self-confidence.”
“The most important thing he said was, ‘You’re good enough, clear your mind and play without thinking too much,'” Calhanoglu added in an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport.
Calhanoglu’s personality shines through when he bites the Milan insignia on his shirt after scoring goals.
“I don’t kiss on the pitch. I bite. A kiss symbolizes love whereas a bite symbolizes desire,” Calhanoglu said. “So that symbolizes me.”
Milan and Juventus have met in five finals between the Italian Cup, Italian Super Cup and Champions League. Four of those were decided in penalty shootouts, including the 2016 Super Cup, which Milan won for its final trophy under previous owner Silvio Berlusconi.
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