In eleven years at Juventus, Alessio Tacchinardi won the Scudetto six times and claimed a UEFA Champions League winner's medal in 1996. However, the 30-year-old midfielder was on the sidelines when the Bianconeri beat AFC Ajax on penalties in the final in Rome.
After Tacchinardi lost three other finals (1997, 1998 and 2003) before leaving Juventus to join Villarreal last summer, not many would have bet on him getting within touching distance of another European trophy. Yet now only Arsenal FC - Juventus's quarter-final conquerors – stand between Tacchinardi's new club and the Paris final on 17 May.
"Honestly I'm very happy because I would not have liked to play against Juventus," Tacchinardi told uefa.com. "At Juve I have many friends - the coach, the club and the fans. I would much rather play Arsenal even if at this stage of the season they are probably stronger and in better form than Juventus. It is a matter of heart: I prefer to face Arsenal than a side I represented all my career."
The English team, who beat Juventus 2-0 on aggregate, hold no particular secrets for Tacchinardi, who has discussed them with his former Bianconeri team-mates. "I called them after both legs because they were really down. They told me Arsenal are playing very well and that Thierry Henry was out of this world. They play a strange brand of football. They defend well and play with only one striker but have many midfielders ready to attack. It will be a difficult semi-final, but that's normal at this stage of the competition."
Away goal wanted
What must Villarreal do, then, to defeat the Gunners? "Mental and physical condition is what matters most in a balanced tie like this. Our ground, El Madrigal, is very important too, but we should try to score an away goal as we did through Diego Forlán at [FC] Internazionale [Milano]. If we score at Highbury, we can play our own cards at home."
It has taken less than a season at Villarreal for Tacchinardi to become a huge fan of Spanish football. "Now I play here, I can say that football is more beautiful in La Liga compared to Serie A. The tactical point of view is more important in Italy, while here every team tries to play more spectacular football. In Italy the game is more defensive and here they always speak about 'catenaccio'."
The former Atalanta BC trainee is even keen to finish his career in Spain. "My agent said I had offers from Italy but I wanted a less stressful experience after giving myself to Juventus. In Italy there are too many polemics, too much stress. If you win everything is fine, but if you lose ... See what happened to Inter's players after their defeat against us. I won't play on for many more years, but I will certainly do it in Spain."
Having teamed up with world-class footballers in Turin, Tacchinardi can spot a quality player. And Juan Román Riquelme is certainly one. "Román reminds me of Zinédine Zidane five years ago. Now I think 'Zizou' is a bit tired physically and mentally and he may decide to retire after the [FIFA] World Cup. It's a pity because I played with him when he was at his best and he was amazing. Riquelme can also make the difference at every level and I hope he becomes a star at the World Cup."
Villarreal have been the biggest surprise of this UEFA Champions League season, despite lying only eighth in their domestic league. "We want to qualify for the UEFA Cup, but the Champions League is much more important. We have used up a lot of energy getting this far and the goal is to go all the way to Paris and then lift the trophy."
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