It would be a bit unfair to say that Sunday's Juventus vs. Atalanta match was an afterthought. While Juve had clinched the league title on the previous Sunday, they were still looking to finish the campaign as the undisputed and undefeated champions of Italy. With that said, the day was always going to be about living legend Alessandro Del Piero, who, after two decades of service, was set to play his final match at Juventus Stadium. Del Piero gave supporters one final memory before saying goodbye to literally all of the fans in the arena.
Del Piero earned the match headlines 18 minutes after Luca Marrone put the hosts up in the tenth minute. Emanuele Giaccherini connected with Del Piero on the edge of the penalty area, and Del Piero squared up and curled a low strike that sailed to the right of goalkeeper Giorgio Frezzolini and into the corner of the net. It wasn't the best ball ever struck by the all-time great, but it was a fitting finish to his Juventus Stadium career, a goal that ended up being the match-decider.
Things largely slowed down for the rest of the half, as Atalanta seemed more than happy to allow Juve to run the clock down. The biggest highlight of the match was kick-started in the 58th minute, when Del Piero was taken off for substitute Simone Pepe. Del Piero was saluted by players and staffs from both sides, and he saluted the crowd before making his way off the pitch. In true heroic fashion, Del Piero even signed an autograph for a young fan before taking his seat.
He wouldn't remain seated for long. After a few minuets, Del Piero began one of the slowest victory laps I've seen in quite awhile. He completed a walk around Juventus Stadium while waving to the adoring crowd and collecting shirts, scarves and other memorabilia thrown into his rout by Juve supporters. Many fans shown on TV had tears in their eyes and running down their cheeks as they saluted their beloved hero for the final time. The action on the field hadn't stopped. It merely became secondary to the larger-than-life figure taking a walk along the edge of the pitch. American fans with access to ESPN3/Watch ESPN can witness this victory lap via the match replay.
Juventus went on to score twice in the final ten minutes of play, once in their own net. Stephan Lichtsteiner unintentionally deflected a cross in for an own goal seven minutes from time, but Juve were then awarded a penalty one minute into stoppage time. Andrea Barzagli buried the PK to remove any doubt regarding the outcome of the contest, and the victory and undefeated season were clinched.
Survival Sunday had deep meaning for many European sides. For Juventus, May 13 signaled the completed comeback from the scandal that ultimately saw them relegated, as well as the end of an era. We still can't say for sure where Del Piero will be enjoying his football next fall.
What Juve fans around the world can say this Sunday evening, however, is "thanks for the memories."
- Sports & Recreation
- Alessandro Del Piero