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Soccer-Juve expecting tougher challenge in Serie A and Down Under

Reuters

By Nick Mulvenney

SYDNEY, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Juventus expect a much tougher challenge in Serie A this season as they chase a fourth straight Scudetto, new coach Massimiliano Allegri said on Friday after the Italian champions landed in Australia for a friendly as part of their world tour.

Allegri is overseeing his first pre-season at Juventus after replacing Antonio Conte, who led the Turin club to a hat-trick of league titles but stood down in July because he felt winning silverware would become increasingly difficult.

Former AC Milan coach Allegri, looking fatigued after the flight from Indonesia where Juventus opened their world tour with an 8-1 victory over a local select XI on Wednesday, was clearly in agreement with his predecessor.

"This year will probably be much harder compared to last year," the 46-year-old told a news conference under Sydney's landmark Opera House.

"There will be stiffer competition as the other teams in Serie A have strengthened their squads quite significantly.

"We are still the favourites but it'll be much more challenging title race this year."

Flanked by striker Carlos Tevez and goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, and with new signing Patrice Evra also on the podium, Allegri paid tribute to hundreds of local fans who had got up in the early hours of the morning to welcome the squad at the airport.

Juventus, who estimate they have 250 million fans around the world, will face an A-League All Star XI led by the Italian club's former skipper Alessandro Del Piero at Sydney's Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

IMPORTANT TEST

While the crowd in Sydney at the weekend is expected to be around the same 60,000 mark that turned out in the humidity of Jakarta on Wednesday, Allegri expects a tougher contest.

"I'm confident the game on Sunday will be much harder than the game in Indonesia," he said.

"Australia soccer has improved significantly over the last few years, even if they didn't go particularly well at the World Cup, and they have very good players.

"This will be a very important test for Juventus looking ahead to next season."

Allegri said influential Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, who underwent a knee operation before the World Cup, had started training properly again on Thursday.

"Vidal started running yesterday," Allegri added. "We will evaluate his condition day-by-day and decide when it's best for him to start playing again."

Vidal has been the subject of reports linking him to Manchester United but Allegri has expressed his determination to keep the 27-year-old if he wants to stay in Turin.

One player definitely not heading anywhere is Buffon, who is set to embark on his 14th season at the club and is looking forward to locking horns with his predecessor as club captain, Del Piero.

"It will be something completely new for me as Alessandro was already at Juventus before I joined the club," said the 36-year-old World Cup winner.

"I hope it will be a beautiful experience to play against Alessandro and the select XI, I hope there will plenty of entertainment for the public.

"Hopefully, that entertainment will not include Alex scoring a goal against Juventus." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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