Juve hunting for elusive Champions League win

AFP, MILAN, Italy

Wed, Nov 27, 2013 - Page 19

Juventus will be looking to end a run of six UEFA Champions League games without a win today when they host Copenhagen with qualification from Group B hanging delicately in the balance.

Antonio Conte’s men claimed their fifth Serie A win on the trot on Sunday to move top of the table, but in Europe the Italian champions have struggled to make an impact.

After four group games, Juve — who also lost their last two games in last season’s competition, to eventual winners Bayern Munich — are still winless and sit bottom of the group on three points, seven behind leaders Real Madrid.

However, Juve are only one point behind second-placed Galatasaray and Copenhagen, meaning a win today could propel them up to second place — if Real, as widely expected, account for Galatasaray in Madrid.

Depending on events in the Spanish capital, that scenario could leave the Bianconeri on six points with a possible two-point cushion on Galatasaray ahead of a tricky away trip to Istanbul next month.

If Juventus manage only a draw against the Danes, qualification becomes far more complicated, while defeat would end Conte’s hopes of taking his side into the round-of-16 for the second successive season.

Conte was ecstatic after goals from Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez secured a 2-0 away win at AS Livorno on Sunday and sent the champions top of the league for the first time this season, but looking ahead to today, the Juve coach admitted having to rely on favorable results elsewhere is not ideal.

“We’d much prefer to have our destiny in our own hands and not to have to rely on the results of other teams, but we’re still very motivated to keep going in this competition,” Conte said on Sunday.

Juventus escaped with a draw in their group opener in the Danish capital when Fabio Quagliarella canceled out Nicolai Jorgensen’s 14th-minute opener nine minutes after the break.

Since then, the Italian champions have fallen at every hurdle.

Quagliarella looked to have secured a late win at home to Galatasaray when his 87th-minute strike gave Juve a 2-1 lead, only for Umut Bulut to pounce on slack defending a minute later to secure a shock draw for the Turkish side.

Defeat to Real in Madrid in their next game was widely expected, but Juve, reduced to 10 men early in the second half when Giorgio Chiellini was sent off, showed plenty of character on their way to a 2-1 reverse.

Juve then hosted the Spanish giants, but were outclassed by the pace of Cristiano Ronaldo, who added to his two-goal tally in Madrid by canceling out an Arturo Vidal penalty, and Gareth Bale, who leveled for the Spaniards five minutes after Llorente had put Juve within sight of a precious win.

It has left Juve wondering what might have been, but on the plus side Copenhagen’s record in Italy is poor — they have lost on all three previous visits — and Juve seem to be finding form in timely fashion.

Although Argentine striker Tevez has not hit the net in the Champions League since April 7, 2009 — when he scored for Manchester United away to Porto — his fledgling partnership with Llorente is bearing fruit.

Llorente, who has scored twice in the group stages so far, smashed a superb volley into the Livorno net on Sunday, when he also set up Tevez for Juve’s second.

“It’s starting to get better with Carlos every day,” Llorente said. “Playing more regularly gives me strength and this goal has boosted me even further.”