Best chance for Juve to end Italy`s European title drought

Zee Media Bureau/ Rajdeep Saha

New Delhi: Serie A leaders Juventus host Olympique Lyon at home in their Europa League quarter-final second leg tie on Thursday. Antonio Conte knows well how a passage to the semi-final would mean for the Old Lady of Turin and Italian football. The final of the Europa League is to be played in Juventus` ground in Turin on May 14 and the Italian champions are desperate to lift the trophy at home in front of their fans. If they win Europe`s second most coveted trophy, it will see Italian football in a high after some years of struggle in the continent.

The last Italian team to win a continental title was Inter Milan in the 2009-10 season when they beat Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Champions League final. Another San Siro outfit, AC Milan won their last European silverware in the 2006-07 season and since then both the giants have failed to make a mark. Likewise, Juventus too haven`t fared well in the continental front for two successive seasons in a row now.

Europe`s second-tier competition has been the missing piece of silverware for Italian clubs, as Parma was the last team in 1998-99 season to win the competition, then known as the UEFA Cup. Italy has witnessed a transition phase where both the Milan giants, for the first time, will miss the Champions League next season. Inter has been absent for the last two seasons and is fighting for an Europa spot this season. Such is the scenario where the balance of power has shifted to Spain, England and Germany.

In-form Juventus have a much balanced side and has emphatic fire-power in Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente upfront. Both strikers are enjoying a new lease of life under manager Antonio Conte after joining the club in 2013. The evergreen Andrea Pirlo has been supreme in dictating terms in midfield alongside French youngster Paul Pogba. Conte is a tactician and is keen to set it right against Lyon. He has helped Juventus win back-to-back Serie A titles and will need the Cup which he had earlier won as a player with the same team in 1994-95.

Going into the return-leg, Juventus carry a 1-0 first-leg lead over the French outfit and are favourites to go through to the semis. Portuguese giants, Benfica and FC Porto too look assured for a last four berth. All three teams were knocked out of the Champions League as they finished third in their respective groups.