Three years ago Juventus gambled on Cristiano Ronaldo lifting them to Champions League glory. Since then they have laboured against underdogs in the knockout stages, losing to Ajax in the last eight in 2019, to Lyon in the last 16 last season and now to Porto. Coincidentally, Juve’s chairman and very own bad ideas machine, Andrea Agnelli, reckons that football would be better if transfers between big sides were a thing of the past.
Agnelli, the chairman of the European Club Association, is one of the main drivers behind reforms that will make the Champions League even more elitist. In his head, football is not about upsets. And in his world, the path to glory is achieved with one of the best examples of big-club excess: betting everything on a superannuated superstar whose ageing legs make it impossible for Juve to usher in a more expansive style of play under their inexperienced manager, Andrea Pirlo.
Perhaps Ronaldo, ever the showman, still has it in him to defy time. But there is a large body of evidence to suggest Juve, who are 10 points below Internazionale at the top of Serie A, have become a worse team since buying him from Real Madrid.
They were deservedly humbled by Porto, who somehow reached the last eight on away goals despite playing most of the second leg in Turin with 10 men after a moment of utter folly from Mehdi Taremi.
The decisive moment came when Porto, who were so brave on and off the ball, won a free-kick with five minutes left in extra time. Sérgio Oliveira, who had put the visitors 3-1 up on aggregate with a first-half penalty, struck the ball low and hard towards the wall. Ronaldo jumped, turned his back and the ball went through his legs, leaving Wojciech Szczesny unsighted and unable to react in time. There was no better way to sum up Juve’s inertia.
Although Adrien Rabiot quickly pulled one back to set up a frantic finish on a barmy night, Juve looked further away than ever from becoming European champions for the first time since 1996. Sérgio Conceição’s courageous underdogs were deserved winners.
Porto held their nerve, shutting down Juve’s push for a dramatic winner. They cracked at the start of the second half, conceding when Ronaldo briefly stirred and created a fine goal for Federico Chiesa and the Portuguese side made their task even harder when Taremi gave Bjorn Kuipers an opportunity to show him a second yellow card after kicking the ball away when he was already on a booking.
Chiesa soon hauled Juve level on aggregate, heading in his third goal of the tie. But Juve lacked ideas against 10 men. The profligate Álvaro Morata had a winner disallowed for offside and Juan Cuadrado cracked the crossbar at the end of normal time, but Porto’s heroic defence dug deep to force extra time and maintained their threat on the counterattack. Juve were fortunate when Moussa Marega headed straight at Szczesny.
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Ronaldo was poor. When Juve forked out all that money on him, they envisaged something grander than this. “These are his matches,” Pirlo said before the game, building up the legend, but Porto had no reason to be fearful. They did not sit on their advantage from the first leg. Sturdy at the back and dangerous on the break, they created plenty of chances during the first half, having seven attempts on goal inside the first 25 minutes.
They led after winning a penalty in the 17th minute, Merih Demiral clumsily fouling Taremi. Oliveira sent Szczesny the wrong way.
Juve were often static in the final third and Morata was twice denied by Agustín Marchesín. While Ronaldo was hardly involved in general play, he made an impact when he finally had a touch in Porto’s area. Running on to Leonardo Bonucci’s pass, he teed up Chiesa for a lovely finish.
Porto, marshalled by the 38-year-old Pepe at centre-back, began to fret. Taremi, who had just picked up a booking, tried to waste time by kicking the ball away when Marega was penalised. The referee needed little convincing to dismiss Taremi.
Juve were level after 63 minutes, Chiesa heading in Cuadrado’s cross. Somehow, though, Porto pulled off the impossible. The irony of Juve going out should be lost on no-one after Agnelli’s behaviour.
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