When the Old Lady finally sang

FOX Sports recalls Juventus' 1995 Champions League win - considered by many of their fans to be their first true triumph in the continent.

Gianluca Vialli, Juventus
Kelvin Yap

By Kelvin Yap

Juventus first won the European Cup in 1985, but ask any hardcore Juve fan about their fondest continental memories and they'll likely mention the 1996 Champions League win over Ajax.

1985 was a dark year for football in general, and even more so for Juventus, after 39 of their fans died and a further 600 were injured in the Heysel Stadium disaster which resulted in English football clubs being banned from all European competitions. 

Juventus, also known nicknamed as the Old Lady, were crowned as European Cup winners with a 1-0 win over Liverpool that fateful night, but it was a hollow victory - one that brought no joy to the winners.

Star striker Paolo Rossi later said "that trophy has no meaning for me" - it was commemorated as a day of mourning rather than triumph.

It was no surprise then, that when the fans were determined to make it count when Juventus finally reached another Champions League more than a decade later.

The robust Old Lady

Italian football thrived under Arrigo Sacchi at the turn of the 1990s with the revered tactician developing the pressing game which won AC Milan back-to-back European titles.

The Juventus that reached the final in 1996 was similarly-built under Marcello Lippi who always argued that "a group of the best players do not necessarily make for the best team". Lippi simply expanded on Sacchi's philosophy and emphasised team play over reliance on a star player. 

He once said: "In this day and age you win if you become a team. It doesn't necessarily mean that you've got to have the best football players in the country. It's possible that the best, all together, don't become a team. It's like a mosaic; you have to put all the pieces together."

Perhaps the player that best embodied Lippi's Juventus then was defender Pietro Vierchowod - courageous, hard-working and committed to the team's cause. So much so that he was once dubbed by Diego Maradona as his toughest opponent

In an interview with Argentine magazine El Gráfico, Maradona stated that "[Vierchowod] was an animal, he had muscles to the eyelashes. It was easy to pass by him, but then when I raised my head, he was in front of me again. I would have to pass him two or three more times and then I would pass the ball because I couldn't stand him anymore".

Gary Lineker, who grew up in the tough tackling world of the English league, also revealed in an interview with FourFourTwo that Vierchowod was "the hardest defender he ever faced", adding that "he [Vierchowod] was absolutely brutal and lightning quick. He gave me one or two digs."

Make no mistake- this was not the pleasant, entertaining Old Lady of the late 1990s with the likes of Christian Vieri, Zinedine Zidane, Filippo Inzaghi and Edgar Davids. 

This was the tough-as-nails, grouchy Old Lady who would make sure that life was miserable for all her neighbours if she didn't get what she want.

A meeting of two philosophies

It was fitting that Juventus met defending champions Ajax in the final. Both teams emphasised teamwork in their play but had opposing ideas; Louis van Gaal wanted Ajax to play free-flowing, passing football while Lippi's focus was on disciplined pressing all over the pitch.

Ajax's record of conceding only two goals throughout the European campaign put them as form favourites going into the final, and the fact that their youthful side featured the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Nwanko Kanu, the De Boer twins and Edwin van der Sar strengthened the odds in their favour.

As for Juventus, the biggest thing working for them was that the final was to be played at Roma's Stadio Olimpico - at least it was in their own country.

The match itself was far from a classic. Forgettable, in fact.

As expected, it was Ajax who controlled the game from the start, but Lippi's strategy to apply the pressure high up the pitch worked. Fabrizio Ravanelli capitalised on a botched header by Frank de Boer in the 11th minute to take the ball past Van der Sar and place the ball in the net from a narrow angle to give his side the lead.

Ajax upped the pressure and it almost told when Danny Blind's header was helped onto the upright by Angelo Perruzzi. Ajax ultimately broke through in the 40th minute via Litmanen, who was the first in the box to react to a punched free kick and tucked the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

It was down to a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner.

Davids stepped up first for Ajax but immediately handed the advantage to Juve by shooting straight at Peruzzi.

With Ciro Ferrera, Gianluca Pessotto and Michele Padovano all beating Van der Sar, Ajax's Sonny Silooy tipped the scales even further after his shot was saved by a diving Peruzzi.

As Vladimir Jugovic stepped up, Juventini around the world held their breath. Van der Sar stretched his long hand in the right direction, but Jugovic's powerful shot evaded him and found the side netting.

The stadium erupts, and the Old Lady finally sang.



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