The pressure is on for UEFA Europa League final hosts Juventus as they welcome ACF Fiorentina to Turin for the round of 16 first leg, knowing their opponents have every possible motivation to block their path.
Fiorentina lost 1-0 at Juventus in Serie A on Sunday – a result which further confirmed they have little chance of claiming a UEFA Champions League place for next season – and fans with longer memories will be harking back to the 1990 UEFA Cup final, when the Bianconeri got the better of the Viola over two legs.
Juve coach Antonio Conte summed it up. "There's not much for them to play for now in the league so this is it for them – not like us who have the aim of a third Scudetto in a row, as well as the Europa League," he said. "Fiorentina can focus all their efforts on the Europa League as they haven't got the cup yet [with the final against SSC Napoli not until May] and don't have a chance in the league."
However, while the 44-year-old acknowledged his side were being pushed to their limits by a busy fixture schedule – "you can't keep running without petrol," he noted cryptically – Juventus will not lack desire. "We know the Scudetto has a huge importance, but we also know the Europa League is a beautiful competition and it would be fantastic to go all the way," he said.
Conte did that with the Old Lady in the 1992/93 UEFA Cup, being the only coach in the last 16 to have won the trophy as a player, and feels this is a fixture that belongs on the highest stage. "We are two sides who play great football and this could be a good advert for Italy and for Europe," he said. "I say this and then it could end up 0-0 without any shots on goal, but I doubt it – both teams always want to hurt opponents by scoring goals and I hope it will be a great game fit for the occasion."
Though his charges were beaten in Turin at the weekend, Vincenzo Montella was heartened by Fiorentina's display, particularly after the break. "When you're playing at this kind of level, a lot also depends on your opponents," the coach said. "I don't know how many sides have played here at the Juventus Stadium the way my team did in the second half so we've got to believe."
The tie will be a special one for forward Alessandro Matri, who left Juventus for AC Milan last summer after 27 goals in 69 top-flight appearances, subsequently moving to Florence on loan in January. "It's the third time I come here, but it's always emotional," said the 29-year-old, an unused substitute on Sunday. "I've got to say I'd love to score against my former club."
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