Juventus reaches second Champions League final in three years with 2-1 win over Monaco

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The apparent decline of Italian soccer coincided almost exactly with that of Juventus. In 2006, Juventus and several other Serie A clubs were implicated in an enormous referee manipulation scandal. Juve was punished hardest and relegated to Serie B.

AC Milan won the Champions League the next year. And Inter Milan did in 2010. But in the 10 years after Calciopoli, as the scandal was dubbed, just three Italian teams made it to the final of the world’s toughest club competition. Half as many as in the decade before it. From 1989 through 1998, in fact, a Serie A team had reached the final in nine of those ten seasons. Juventus was in the final three years in a row from 1996 to ’98.

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The proud club from Turin was cast into Italy’s second tier and seemingly doomed to never again scale the summits of its prior dominance. Meanwhile, the failure of Italian soccer to modernize its earning models, build modern stadiums and sustain the billionaire investment that had propped it up lamed the remainder of the clubs.

Italian soccer, the consensus went, was over. As a European force, at least. But the very club to become synonymous with its demise is now suggesting its revival.

Juve, predictably, was immediately promoted back to Serie A in 2007 and was its champion again by 2012. Since then, Italy has not crowned a different winner. Soon enough, Juventus will likely lift a sixth straight title. It was dominant as ever, towering over its rivals on the field and off it, the rare team that owns its stadium and uses the proceeds – and prize money – to hoard talent.

Alves and Juventus is moving on to the June 3 final in Cardiff. (Reuters)
Alves and Juventus is moving on to the June 3 final in Cardiff. (Reuters)

Yet when Juve reached the Champions League final in 2015, it was seen as a romantic throwback to a era of routine Italian appearances in the title game. The departures of Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez, Alvaro Morata and Paul Pogba over the next two summers were considered confirmation that Juventus’ run was a blip because it could no longer hold onto talent – never mind that Pirlo and Tevez had aged out of their primes.

But Juve reloaded and, in fact, got stronger. In Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain, it actually reinforced its forward line. Miralem Pjanic replaced Pogba capably. Paulo Dybala has matured into one of the finest players in the world. And for every other key departure, Juventus somehow managed to not just compensate but gain in depth.

This year, it wasn’t at all surprising to see Juve reach the final – as it did on Tuesday by beating Monaco 2-1 at home, following a 2-0 away win a week earlier. After all, Juventus had cruised through a difficult group and slayed mighty Barcelona 3-0 in the quarterfinals.

Monaco came out on fire at Juventus Stadium, urgently needing two goals to at least reach extra time. The 18-year-old wunderkind Kylian Mbappe rolled a slow finish off the bottom of the far post in the fifth minute, but he was offside.

Juve soon managed to stifle the pace and prowl on the counter as Monaco was forced forward in pursuit of scoring chances. That led to a raft of sumptuous opportunities for the home team before halftime. Gonzalo Higuain found himself one-on-one with Danijel Subasic and chipped the ball over the goalkeeper, but Kamil Glik scurried back and cleared it off the line.

Subasic then denied fellow Croatian Mandzukic point-blank and was helped out by an enormous block on Higuain by Andrea Raggi.

But after half an hour, in the 33rd minute, Mandzukic pretty much ended the contest. Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, now all of 39 years old, got a counter-attack started by launching Alex Sandro. At the end of the attack, Dani Alves found Mandzukic at the far post. Subasic parried his header, but the striker then popped the rebound into the net.

Higuain scored an apparent second one a few minutes later, after the brilliant Alves – who has sneakily aged to 34, although you wouldn’t know it from his play – sprung him. But the Argentine was a foot or so offside.

At the other end, Giorgio Chiellini deprived Radamel Falcao of a tap-in in the 42nd minute with a wondrous tackle at Juve’s far post. And before the halftime whistle rang out, Alves put up the final score. Subasic punched a cross away, but Alves settled under it and lashed the ball into the net from outside the box.

In a second half that Juventus attempted to slow to a stalemate, seeking to conserve a result that seemed predetermined, Mbappe at least made things interesting with a 69th-minute tap-in on Bernardo Silva’s preparatory work.

The game got a bit chippy thereafter, as Juve’s run of European minutes without conceding a goal ended at 689 minutes – the first score given up since Nov. 22. But Buffon’s only other real intervention came just before the goal when he denied Mbappe at his near post. Although the action got physical, chiefly when Glik clearly stamped on Higuain but wasn’t punished, the game was never close.

Just as this entire tie had never been a fair contest. Juventus’s experience, savvy and depth had overwhelmed Monaco’s youthful talent, which did beat Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in the previous rounds.

Max Allegri’s team simply knows how to win at this stage of the continental season. Because Juve belongs here again, among the Europe elite. Whether the rest of the Italian league does as well is to be seen, as Milan and Inter are in the midst of rebuilding under wealthy new owners and Napoli, Roma and Lazio never quite seem capable of making the leap to being truly big clubs.

But Juventus managed to do so. And so long as Juventus is a European power, Italian soccer, by extension, matters again.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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