Fortune no longer favours the brave

Posted by Mina Rzouki

It may have been a defeat for Juventus on Wednesday, but the sadness comes with a hint of pleasure. For much of the game the Italians looked sharper, better organised and more capable of a goal than Real Madrid. However, some dubious refereeing combined with naive challenges resulted in a penalty for the home side and a red card for the Italians. With 10 men, Juve worked to secure the defence but were unlucky to not have managed an equaliser. Los Blancos won 2-1.

- Report: Real Madrid 2-1 Juventus
- Train: Insatiable Ronaldo decisive again

The first half served to prove one thing, and that is while both sides possess game-changers within their squads, both teams were capable of conceding easy goals. Having allowed in 10 goals in eight matches in Serie A, it only took Juventus four minutes to concede their first of the night. Cristiano Ronaldo, played onside, was left alone to strike and send the Bernabeu stadium rocking.

A sense of deja vu swept past as potential headlines were quickly noted. It was another defensive error from the club that once boasted the best defence in Europe.

However, the reaction stunned the home fans. Rather than dwell on their error, the Bianconeri regrouped, played an effective pressing game and pushed forward in search of an equaliser. The Italians were playing with visible confidence and exciting cohesion despite the psychological meltdown suffered over the weekend. They had nothing to lose but only points to gain.

With Alvaro Arbeloa identified as the weakest link in Madrid's back-line, Carlos Tevez was deployed on the left of a 4-3-3 formation, with Claudio Marchisio played on the right. The Argentine consistently troubled the Spaniard, especially in the first half-hour of the game, in hopes of managing an equaliser. Meanwhile Paul Pogba, behind him in midfield, not only demonstrated elegance and strength but above all footballing intelligence as he helped to seek out ways in which split open the Spanish defence.

The equaliser Juventus so viciously chased finally came after Martin Caceres managed a good cross from the right to atone for his earlier error. Fernando Llorente, the only Spaniard within the squad, demonstrated his striker's instinct when he pounced on the rebound and scored with his right foot to overcome Iker Casillas.

It was an even game between Juventus and what is largely perceived to be the best team in Europe as both sides searched for a goal in a challenging contest. Sadly, Juve's joy was short-lived as naivety got the better of Giorgio Chiellini. A player accustomed to getting away with certain challenges in Serie A was punished for pulling down Sergio Ramos to concede a penalty. In Europe, such actions are never tolerated and, more importantly, it was needless as Gianluigi Buffon was in a good position.

Yet not even Ronaldo's second managed to remove the spark in Juve's play. Caceres was motivated, Arturo Vidal ran relentlessly while Tevez not only proved effective going forward but tactically disciplined in defence as he often tracked back to occupy space. Juventus once again looked like an Antonio Conte-led team. They played as a unit, remained concentrated and displayed that special hunger.

The second half started, and it took only three minutes before the competition was forcibly ended. Chiellini was shown a straight red card for what the referee perceived to be an elbow in the face of Ronaldo. "The Portuguese fell as if struck by Mohammed Ali," wrote La Repubblica. However, it has since transpired that the referee gave the red card due to it being a goal-scoring opportunity. The decision seemed harsh, the penalty excessive. "I still have to laugh," Conte noted in his post-match comments, "because if that can be considered a 'clear scoring opportunity' then so can everything."

With Juventus down to 10 men, it seemed unlikely their constant running to secure the defence, which they did masterfully well, would allow them enough energy to score an equaliser. And yet they came close on numerous occasions, fighting hard to get a point until the last moments of the game.

Defensively, it has to be noted, the Old Lady proved effective. She kept her shape, her lines were in order and spaces were effectively occupied to limit the runs made by Real Madrid's players. In truth, Los Blancos' lethargic energy gave the Italians little to worry about. Had they exploited their pace and raised their levels of intensity, Juventus may well have suffered more.

Conte has a lot to be proud of, especially in light of the tactical changes. His men produced more shots on target than the Spaniards and they always looked capable of a point at the very least. The only bone of contention lies with the decision to deploy Angelo Ogbonna on the right. The defender greatly struggled on the night.

Fortune usually favours the brave, but on this occasion, Juventus feel German officiating let them down. They must win at least two of their remaining three matches should they hope of qualifying to the next round. Now, it’s time to turn their attention back to Serie A and prepare for Genoa's visit Sunday to Turin.

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