ROME (AP) — There were expectations that Italy’s European Championship title would translate to success for the country’s clubs in continental competition.
The dazzling, quick-passing play of Roberto Mancini’s national team that gained admirers worldwide in June and July was nowhere to be seen, though, when Juventus was eliminated by Villarreal in the Champions League — leaving Italy without a representative in the quarterfinals of the elite competition for the second consecutive season.
“Italian soccer achieved a real miracle by winning the Euros, also because the success came via innovative and courageous play,” former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi said in the Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday. “But the club teams, apart from some ‘smaller clubs’ that have gotten the message (see Atalanta and Sassuolo), still think the old-fashioned way: ‘First, let’s not concede and then we’ll see what happens.’”
It’s worth noting that Juventus did take the initiative in the first half on Wednesday, producing four shots on goal to Villarreal’s none, including one effort off the crossbar from Dušan Vlahović. In the second half, when Villarreal sat back and defended with the aggregate score 1-1, Juventus grew frustrated and opened itself up to counterattacks.
Villarreal then scored three goals in succession and won 3-0 to advance on 4-1 aggregate.
It marked the third consecutive season that Juventus was eliminated at home in the round of 16, and it’s the fourth straight time that the Bianconeri have been knocked out after a home second-leg match, including a quarterfinal loss to Ajax in 2019.
“I don’t think there is an explanation,” Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado said. “That’s soccer.”
For Juventus, one of the teams that was at the forefront of the failed European Super League project, elimination in Europe has become the norm. The club’s last continental trophy was the lightly regarded Intertoto Cup in 1999, which came three years after its last Champions League title.
A record 36-time Italian champion, Juventus’ only two European Cup titles came generations ago — in 1985 and 1996.
After reaching the Champions League final in 2015 and 2017, Juventus thought it had everything it needed to finally win the coveted trophy with the purchase of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018. But Ronaldo came and went after three seasons, as did coaches Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo after single seasons in charge.
The return of Massimiliano Allegri, the coach who guided Juventus to the two Champions League finals, was supposed to restore the team to at least the latter phases of the competition.
“Sometimes they go in your favor and sometimes they don’t,” Allegri said. “It’s just about accepting that.”
The last Italian club to win the Champions League remains Inter Milan in 2010, while Atalanta was the last to reach the quarterfinals, in 2020.
Meanwhile, the future of Mancini’s team will be on the line in the World Cup playoffs next week. Italy hosts North Macedonia, with the winner going on to play at Portugal or Turkey for a spot at the tournament in Qatar later this year.
The Azzurri failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in what was declared a national embarrassment. Failing to qualify twice consecutively, though, would be an unprecedented low point for the four-time champions.
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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf