- Juventus coach Antonio Conte is taking nothing for granted as his side close in on a third successive Serie A title.The Turin giants claimed a 2-0 victory over Livorno on Monday to restore their eight-point advantage over second-placed Roma with six games remaining. “The title race is by no means over,” Conte said to Sky Italia. “There are six rounds of games to go and nothing has been achieved yet. “We must keep working like this. “This is a fascinating campaign with two teams – Juventus and Roma – beating records and doing extraordinary things.
“People should give credit to Juve and Roma.” Monday’s win was Juve’s 27th of the campaign and allowed the Turin giants to make amends for their 2-0 defeat at Napoli in the previous round – only their second loss in the league this season. “I’m happy we did well against Livorno,” Conte said. “This result was important as the teams behind us in the standings keep winning. “Our confidence remains high but we cannot slow down.” Juve next host Lyon on Thursday, holding a 1-0 advantage in their Europa League quarter-final tie.
“We have three days to prepare and we want to be in the semi-final,” Conte said. “It would be great to reach the last four, for Italian football as well as for Juve. “But Lyon have great players in attack and the tie is far from over. “I hope to see a packed Juventus Stadium and that our fans make their voices heard to push the team forward. “We need the crowd to rise to the big occasion for the final stretch of the campaign. “We have won trophies in recent years also thanks to them and I hope it will continue that way.”
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Later this week, the Europa League quarter-finals will be played out to their climax. In truth, we have a good idea of three who will occupy the last four; Juventus, Benfica and Basel all hold strong hands ahead of the return matches. Only Porto and Seville truly present us with a tight situation. So those who wish to ignore it can, continuing to belittle a competition that has provided its share of drama and gripping fixtures. Porto’s win over Napoli, Juve and Fiorentina’s tense slug-out and the extraordinary Seville derby have all held the attention of those prepared to give the Europa League a go.
They can still deride it and some probably still will, even after an excellent edition of the tournament this season has reached its finale in the evocative surrounds of the Juventus Stadium—and maybe they will even after next season, when the eventual winners will receive the golden ticket of a Champions League place for the 2015/16 campaign. Then again, maybe it could be different this time. Juve alone, inarguably one of the greatest sides on the continent, have already given the Europa League the greatest pep since its 2009 metamorphosis. The venue (a key pillar of their current renaissance) has surely weighed as much on their clear desire to win the competition as their competitive spirit, with a visible difference in their approach and that of previous Champions League demotes in past years, including Manchester United and Manchester City.
One suspects, given the strength of the Serie A champions and the palpable atmosphere in their new home, that Juve reaching the final would be a different proposition to Sporting Clube de Portugal’s presence in the 2005 UEFA Cup final at their own Estadio Jose Alvalade. Nine years ago, the places that locals couldn’t give away became the hottest ticket in town and then went back to being nothing again, as CSKA Moscow spoiled the party. It is harder to imagine the same fate befalling Juve, with the considerable physical, emotional and technical resources at Antonio Conte’s disposal.
One opponent, however, could give them a run for their money—last season’s losing finalists, Benfica. Jorge Jesus’ team have recovered in some style from the heart-breaking end to last season, which saw them blow a treble with stoppage-time defeats to Porto and Chelsea, before falling in the Taca de Portugal final to modest Vitoria Guimaraes. By the end of that run, the Lisbon sides were a shambles, with star striker Oscar Cardozo showing Jesus on the pitch after the Guimaraes defeat. So it’s extraordinary now that they’re in the hunt for a quadruple, as they face semi-finals of both domestic cups, both against Porto.
When they were preparing to face Tottenham for the first leg of the pair’s Europa League tie in mid-March, Jesus’ team had conceded only one goal in their previous 16 matches in all competitions. It was a phenomenal achievement, even allowing for the drop-off in quality between continental and domestic opponents. Their closest rivals at home, Porto and Sporting, were among those shut out by the red wall in that sequence.
These are two genuine giants of the European game, a pair of clubs that have contested 14 European Cup/Champions League finals between them. Only four of those finals, incidentally, ended in victory; two for Benfica, in their 1960s pomp, and two for Juve in the closing stanza of the 20th century. Let’s not talk about history, though. Let’s talk about the here and now. The midfield battle would be bone-jarring, even minus the departed Nemanja Matic, with Enzo Perez ready to battle the mighty Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal. That’s without considering the mouth-watering prospect of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente against Ezequiel Garay and Luisao. The plan of the Europa League format was always to bridge the gap between the Champions League and the rest. Now, we could have a showpiece final to make good on that idea.
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Roma forward Mattia Destro has been given a four-game ban after television evidence was used to view an incident in the Giallorossi’s 3-1 win over Cagliari on Sunday. De Martinis: Destro carries Roma
Destro, who already faced a one-game suspension after picking up a yellow card in a separate incident in the game, was seen lashing out at Cagliari defender Astori. Since none of the officials saw the incident, television evidence could be used, and a further three-game ban for violent conduct was sanctioned by Lega Seria A on Tuesday. Destro will not now be available until Roma face Juventus on the penultimate weekend of the season. “The two opponents were chasing the ball towards the penalty area and, with the Rossoblu player leading, the Giallorosso player placed his right hand on the left shoulder of his rival and, in rapid succession, with a substantial and energetic movement of his left arm at shoulder level, he struck [his opponent] with a blow to the head using his hand.
“Immediately afterwards, Destro fell to the ground as if he was suffering. The Rossoblu player took him by his shirt and reprimanded him; seeing this, the referee booked Astori, without taking any action against Destro. “When asked by the judge, the referee stated that neither he nor his assistants saw the incident of Destro hitting his opponent. The judge deems the Roma player’s act was unequivocally an act of ‘violent conduct’.” As a result, Destro, 23, will miss Roma’s games against Atalanta, Fiorentina, Milan and Catania before returning to face Juve and for the final game of the season at Genoa.