Real warned not to underestimate Juve
Nick Bidwell
May 6, 2003
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Juventus will need to produce a Zbigniew Boniek-like performance if they are to confound the critics who rate them only as long shots to overcome the mighty Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals.

Back in the mid-1980s, Polish attacking midfielder Boniek was invariably an influential figure for Juve on the big European nights, scoring the winning goal in the 1984 Cup-winners' Cup Final against FC Porto, earning the penalty which beat Liverpool in the ill-fated 1985 Champions' Cup Final at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels and producing countless other five-star performances on the continental stage.

The late, lamented Juventus owner Giovanni Agnelli used to joke that Boniek was only turned on by the midweek floodlights and the former Polish World Cup hero thinks the current Juventus side can similarly raise their game when they face Real.

'Besides the technical ability of their players, Juventus have always been known for their strength of character, their ability to fight until the final whistle and this has again been their trademark in the Champions League this season,' says Boniek, who resigned after a short stint as Poland's manager last December.

'In the second phase, Juve won a crucial game at home to Deportivo La Coruna with a late goal from Igor Tudor and they showed the same spirit against Barcelona in the quarter-finals.

'The odds looked stacked against them when Edgar Davids was sent-off, but Juve were tremendously resilient and Barcelona just could not find a way through. Lilian Thuram was absolutely superb after being moved from right-back into the central defence and in extra-time they broke out for the winner.

'Hats off to them. They ran, battled and suffered but finally came through with the win and qualification for the last-four.

'Of course, it goes without saying that Juve face a tough task against all the Real Madrid stars. Ronaldo, Figo, Zidane and the others need no introduction. But I wouldn't write Juve off.

'Before the Barcelona tie, all the Juventus players were saying how happy they were to draw Barca and it turned out to be much harder than they thought. Against Real, they will be the underdogs and it will suit them better.'

Juventus certainly like their Eastern European stars. Two decades ago, it was the sight of Zibi Boniek latching onto passes from French playmaking maestro Michel Platini which set pulses racing in Turin; now it is the turn of the Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved to turn on the style and Boniek is an unconditional admirer.

'Big matches are often decided by big players and I've no hesitation putting Nedved into that category. He's full of running, heart and competitiveness and scores more than his share of goals. He's one of the best midfielders in the world today. It's flattering to hear people compare him to me, though our playing styles are a little different.

'I'd go as far as to say that he's the only player Juventus cannot do without. Even when Alex Del Piero and David Trezeguet have been injured, other members of the squad have come in to do a good job.

'But there's no adequate substitute for Nedved. This season he's been performing consistently to a very high standard and I hope he keeps it going against Real.

'With three sides in the semi-finals of this term's Champions League, Serie A has bounced back with a vengeance after a few barren years. Yet Boniek has reservations about talk of a so-called Italian renaissance.

'Apart from their keeper Toldo, Inter Milan do not convince me at the back. They have lots of international players in defence, but they do not form a cohesive unit. That is a big problem for them.

'As for AC Milan, I'm not sure they know their best line-up and we are close to the end of the season. They have so many world-class players to choose from in midfield and attack and they haven't found the right formula yet. '

For Zibi Boniek, the Real Madrid-Juventus tie is the real Champions League Final and there can be little doubt where his hopes are pinned.

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