Juventus' destiny: Buffon, Pirlo earn a Champions League final berth in Berlin
"We're going to Berlin!" Italy fans sang in 2006. The 5,000 Juventus fans who made the trip to the Bernabeu are singing it again now. Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli and Andrea Pirlo are returning to the scene of their World Cup triumph.
Juventus are back in a Champions League final for the first time in 12 years after knocking out Real Madrid just as they did at this stage back then. Maybe it really is their destiny? Never underestimate how intangibles like these can inexplicably take on a life of their own and generate a belief within a group that becomes self-fulfilling. The impossible suddenly becomes possible. Think Chelsea's victory in 2012.
For a time on Wednesday night, it looked as though Juventus' luck and in particular that of Giorgio Chiellini had run out. His clumsy challenge on James Rodriguez in the 21st minute and the penalty it led to looked to have put everything in jeopardy. But the football gods must like Chiellini, because as was the case with his slip in the first leg against Borussia Dortmund and the spot kick Geoffrey Kondogbia was denied after he was sandwiched between Arturo Vidal and the centre-back in the second leg against Monaco, ultimately Cristiano Ronaldo's goal didn't end up costing Juventus their place in the competition.
"Fiuuu!" was the sigh of relief coach Max Allegri emitted after a come-from-behind win against Olympiakos in the group stages, and it has become the defining expression of this Juventus campaign. "I have plenty of clever generals," Napoleon once said, "but just give me a lucky one." Allegri's predecessor Antonio Conte was the former. Allegri gives the impression of being both.
Still, fortune favours the brave. The decision to persist with the 4-3-1-2 rather than fall back on the 3-5-2 and play with an extra man in midfield and one fewer in defence, in addition to the selection of Paul Pogba ahead of Stefano Sturaro who had been so impressive last week, was indicative of a desire to score rather than focus exclusively on protecting their advantage. The intention was to get the balance right, as they did in the round of 16 when they went to Dortmund with a 2-1 lead and sought to add an away goal to it -- and ended up scoring three!
As expected, Real played better than in Turin. There were fewer square pegs in round holes. Carlo Ancelotti's decision to change the system from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 and return Sergio Ramos to the centre of defence meant there was greater equilibrium in midfield even if Real still lacked the balance and control offered by the injured Luka Modric.
An area of weakness in the first leg, the right-back role played by Dani Carvajal, emerged as a surprise early strength. Unlike Sturaro, who kept him in check in the first leg, Pogba didn't always track his runs and the overloads down that side with Isco combined with the crosses he was able to put in created some dangerous situations.
Too often Pirlo gave the ball away too cheaply. James succeeded in bringing out a recklessness, first in Chiellini and then Vidal, while there were occasions when the BBC, back together upon Karim Benzema's reappearance from injury, looked scarily quick on the counter. Had Cristiano Ronaldo's decision-making been better -- recall the break when he checked back inside and opted to pass to a teammate at the far post rather than shoot -- then the game could have been put beyond Juventus. Carlos Tevez, the star of the first leg, couldn't get in the game.
That Juventus stayed in it owed a great deal to Buffon, who produced a series of outstanding first-half saves from Gareth Bale and Benzema. Although he couldn't stop Ronaldo's spot kick, he delivered a captain's performance, kept the ship steady when the waters got choppy and saw things out for as long as it took them to be calm again.
Conceding in the first half, in some respects, represented a blessing in disguise for Juventus as they were able to regroup during the interval, get over it and assess where they needed to improve and adjust. Had it come after the break, panic might have set in.
JUVENTUS STUN REAL MADRID
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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL, JUNE 6 (14:45 ET/19:45 BST)
Instead, Chiellini for instance emerged from the tunnel and played as if his mistake had never happened. Pogba also got it together and was able to make a telling contribution to Juventus' advancement to the final as he knocked the ball down for Alvaro Morata to score the equaliser and stamp the team's ticket for Berlin.
If you believe in fate, as Juventus surely do at the moment, this was inevitable. Like Fernando Morientes in 2004 -- a player he resembles in style -- Morata came back to haunt his former club. On the score sheet in both legs against Real, his achievement mirrored that of David Trezeguet against the same opponent, at the same stage 12 years ago.
Decisive against Dortmund as well, it's worth remembering that, like Pogba, he's only 22. Juventus' Man of the Match together with Buffon, Morata's everything-to-prove youth blended with the keeper's raging-against-the-dying-of-the-light experience is spot on for the dynamic it produces.
Beyond a near-post swing and a far-post header from Bale, Real again conjured little in the second half. Ronaldo and James went missing. Meanwhile Juventus grew in confidence. Iker Casillas, whose sudden decline was evident in Morata's goal and serves only to make the longevity of Buffon -- who, at 37, is four years his senior -- more remarkable, had to prevent Claudio Marchisio and Pogba from finding a winner.
When reflecting on this display, one statistic really stands out and it's not Juventus' 100 percent qualification record on the 13 occasions they have won the first leg 2-1 at home.
No. It relates to the intensity with which Juventus are able to play. They have run an average of 113km a game this season in the Champions League. Real by contrast have covered 109km. But consider this: since the knockout stages began, Juventus have gone up another level, completing 116km every 90 minutes, while Real's average has fallen to 107.8km.
Allegri and his staff deserve huge credit for how they have prepared the team athletically. Extra sessions were done in the winter and at times they looked heavy-legged, but it was specifically done so they would be fresh in the spring.
Wrapping up Serie A with four games to spare has helped -- Allegri has been able to rest and rotate -- and was able to field a full-strength XI for the first time tonight since the first leg against Dortmund on Feb. 24. He could choose the team he wanted. Ancelotti couldn't.
The same is true of Luis Enrique at Barcelona. Not Pep Guardiola at Bayern. The teams that are healthy and approaching peak condition are in the final. The teams that aren't are out. It's not an insignificant detail.
Juventus are healthy in other respects too. Because of the money spent by Italian broadcasters on the Champions League, the Old Lady's progress and her status as the only Italian team in the competition, they stand to make close to 100 million euros from it alone this year.
Reaching the final will also activate bonuses in sponsorship deals and attract new commercial partners. All this puts Juventus in a very strong position for the summer. A deal for Palermo 21-year-old sensation Paulo Dybala is said to be close, and after tying down Pogba earlier this season to a new contract, they now have greater leverage with which to keep him.
Juventus don't need to sell and have shown themselves capable of matching his ambition by going deep in club football's most prestigious competition, which in turn has furnished them with the resources to sign players capable of making nights like this a regular occurrence.
A fascinating final awaits us. Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra and Chiellini meet again. Tevez, known as the Jugador del Pueblo, the Player of the People, goes up against Lionel Messi, a fierce popularity competition in Argentina.
The great conductors of their generation, Pirlo and Xavi, could be in for a jam session. Trebles are at stake for both Juventus and Barcelona. Allegri's hope that his team would make the FIGC move the Coppa Italia final, scheduled for the day after the Champions League final, has been realised. That the Italian football federation had put it in the diary for then -- showing it didn't expect a club from Serie A to make it to Berlin -- adds to the satisfaction felt.
Few give Juventus a chance. Paolo Rossi even asked on Sky Italia whether it would be better for his old team to have gone out in the semifinal to Real than get beat heavily in the final by Barca. Twice knocked out by the Catalans while at Milan, Allegri remains optimistic. He agreed with his former captain Massimo Ambrosini when he said: "It's easier to beat Barcelona in a one-off game than it is over two legs."
Juventus may not have Leo Messi, Neymar and Suarez on their team. They do, however, have destiny on their side.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.