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After helping Juventus keep a long-awaited clean sheet to reach the UEFA Europa League round of 16 at the expense of AFC Ajax, Alex Manninger said belief in European glory is growing in the Bianconeri camp.
The hosts' tactics were dictated largely by their 2-1 win in the first leg in Amsterdam, which meant that the eventual goalless draw or even a 1-0 loss would be enough to see Juve through. To that end, coach Alberto Zaccheroni deployed a Christmas tree formation mindful of containing the visitors and, apart from some early moments, they succeeded.
"It was tough at the beginning," the former Austrian international told UEFA.com. "We knew we had be at our best because Ajax are a good team on a good league run. We closed them down really well at the back and kept a clean sheet for the first time in a long time." Indeed the team had not managed a shut-out in 15 league and European matches, and the fact that Juve's second-choice goalkeeper only knew he was playing on the eve of the match, after Gianluigi Buffon strained his thigh, made the 0-0 result all the more satisfying for the 32-year-old.
"The problem was that I only knew I was playing the day before the game and when you are going to play in an important game like this you would wish to have known a couple of days earlier. But you have to accept these things when you are back-up to one of the best goalies in the world and you have to be ready to step in."
Manninger endured a nervy opening when the flight of Toby Alderweireld's looping effort almost caught him unawares, and then dropped a corner at the feet of Jan Vertonghen, but the former Arsenal FC player was assured thereafter, saving well from Christian Eriksen after the break.
"It took me about ten minutes to see what the ball was doing, because they always use a different ball in the Europa League, but then we did well. We closed them down well, kept them under control and were never really at risk. We knew they would fight for the full 90 minutes and they had a couple of chances but we stayed solid in defence and kept the clean sheet, which was the most important thing.
"We said in the dressing room that the Europa League is starting to work out nicely. We all had a look at the teams that have gone through. We've got Fulham up next which will be tough but the other ties are also very tight, with a lot of very good teams drawn to play against each other so it's all beginning to look very interesting."
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