The Juventus coach Fabio Capello is expecting an angry reaction from the Serie A leaders as they set about overturning a 3-2 deficit against Werder Bremen and earning a place in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
After the dramatic denouement in Bremen, in which goals from Tim Borowski and Johan Micoud completed a stirring home comeback, Thomas Schaaf's side have a valuable aggregate lead. Capello, who particularly abhors defensive fragility, knows any further generosity will spell the premature end of Juve's European ambitions for the second season in succession. "I'm hoping the players are angry - they certainly should be," he said. "Conceding those late goals did not go down well at all."
The Bianconeri boss will certainly have been satisfied by the clean sheet achieved in Saturday's 23rd league win of the season - 1-0 at UC Sampdoria. "The signs are very positive," added Capello. "Apart from when they hit Gianluigi Buffon's crossbar, he wasn't troubled and the team remained concentrated for the full 90 minutes." Morale is sky high, given that a ten-point cushion in Serie A leaves a 29th title well within reach.
Capello continued: "This year we have matured into a very strong unit. We are capable of taking on anyone. The win on Saturday was important and so was the fact we have players fit. This gives us an added psychological boost and means we are confident of beating Bremen." The return of Gianluca Zambrotta is a welcome fillip for Capello, particularly as Bremen's two late goals came from the right flank at the Weserstadion. Jonathan Zebina is expected to start on the opposite side of the home defence. David Trezeguet has also recovered from injury in time but Robert Kovač is definitely out with a knee problem and Zlatan Ibrahimović faces a late fitness test.
Whether or not the visitors change tack and seek to protect their advantage remains to be seen, but Capello seems to think not, saying: "They have players that mean the match will be played in a particular way. It's unlikely they will change their natural game, especially when there is the added temptation of scoring the away goal." His opposite number confirms that assessment. Schaaf said: "I think it would be a mistake to play defensively.
We have players with great attacking ability and it would be wrong to ignore our strengths, although clearly we must not neglect our defensive duties either."
Despite the aggregate lead and return from injury of defensive duo Frank Baumann and Naldo, Schaaf insists his team are still underdogs - a tag which has not stopped him dreaming of taking his club into the last eight of the UEFA Champions League for the first time. "Juve have lots of players of enormous quality and they are better than us on paper and are expected to win. But that's the beauty of football - it isn't played on paper and anything can happen," he said.
What is certain is that Bremen will not crumble at this stage as they did last season, when they lost 3-0 at home to Olympique Lyonnais before a dispiriting 7-2 thrashing in France. Schaaf concluded: "We have gathered quite a lot of European experience now and you learn from every match - especially the bad ones. Games against FC Barcelona, Valencia [CF], AC Milan and Lyon have all taught us something. The experience paid off in the last leg and let's hope it does in the second."
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