Coronation of a Legend

Rafael Benítez travelled to the Club World Cup hoping to save his job. In the first of two features looking at the competition, Adamo Digby recalls a clash between two heavyweights of world football, and a happier time for Italian teams.

As most people will know the 2010 edition of what is now known as the FIFA Club World Cup kicked off this weekend with Champions League winners Inter in Abu Dhabi to play the winners of similar tournaments from other continents, including Internacional of Brazil. Whilst the competition is widely ignored in the UK it is highly regarded in most other countries, where the eventual winners are held in great esteem as World Champions.

Before 2004 the tournament was known as the Intercontinental Cup & was a one off contest between the holders of the European Cup and the South American Copa Libertadores. Because of their disappointing history of underachievement in Europe's premier competition, Juventus have only taken part three times & one of those was as a stand in for 1973 winners Ajax who declined the invitation to compete.

In the early 1990's Juventus, following the tragedy & triumph of Heysel, most of that team of champions retired or left the club, ending one of the most successful cycles in club history. Giovanni Trapattoni, architect of that golden age quit just one year later & the Bianconeri fell into mediocrity under Rino Marchesi, before many changes saw an unheralded Marcello Lippi take charge. The club was struggling in a league dominated by the wealth & power Silvio Berlusconi delivered to Milan & the magical genius of Diego Maradona’s Napoli.

That Milan was perhaps the greatest club side of the modern era, drilled by Arrigo Sacchi & containing iconic names such as Baresi, Gullit, Rijkaard & Van Basten. Juve were always heavy underdogs against a team who had not only won back to back European Cups, but won them in emphatic, all-conquering fashion. Slowly however, the Turin side would emerge from the Rossoneri shadow, starting with the 1993 UEFA Cup & restoring the self-belief usually synonymous with Juventus..

The team that finally toppled the San Siro giants was led by its remarkable forward line of Gianluca Vialli, Fabrizio Ravanelli and the 1993 World Player of the Year Roberto Baggio. The former Fiorentina play-maker was undoubtedly the catalyst for the Turin side becoming the dominating force in Italian football as he helped finally win the Scudetto after a nine year wait, the longest post-war drought in the clubs history. Yet no sooner had Juve stitched the shield onto their shirt, Baggio was sold to Milan and the iconic number ten was passed on to his heir apparent, Alessandro Del Piero. Then just 22 years old, the striker had already begun to shine, a remarkable volley against Fiorentina in 1994 was followed by a string of fantastic strikes as the team conquered Europe, winning the 1996 Champions League Final in Rome.

Then Vialli & Ravenelli also left as Zinedine Zidane arrived, the trust of Lippi was firmly placed in his new-found star. They headed to Tokyo for an edition of the Intercontinental Cup would be a true event as Italy's grandest club would face Argentinian giants River Plate. That los Millonarios side contained some famous names of its own who would go on to grace European football over the next decade; Juan Pablo Sorin, Marcello Salas, Julio Cruz and Ariel Ortega lined up with the classy Enzo Francescoli. But while Del Piero had started on the path to stardom, this game would crown his arrival as a true star of world football.

Juve had controlled the game, creating a seemingly endless number of chances for Bokšić but it remained delicately balanced until, with nine minutes left on the clock, a corner from Angelo Di Livio was headed across the six yard box by Zidane. It fell to a completely unmarked Del Piero, who swivelled & fired an unstoppable shot high into the roof of the net. It ended River Plate's hopes but ignited the young striker, who went on to become the greatest striker the Old Lady has ever seen. Record numbers of goals & appearances - 250 of which have been as Captain, a World Cup winners medal with Italy in 2006, yet to many his status as a World Champion ten years before was truly the coronation of a legend.

You can follow Adamo on Twitter @Adz77 for more insight into the Italian game, past and present.

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