For Juventus Berlin, site of one Italian triumph decade ago, still resonates

Ian Hawkey details the significane of the 'ultra-green pitch of the Olympiastadion' to Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus' links to memories high and low.

Andrea Pirlo has only a partial memory of July 9, 2006. It would be a fabulous day for him, the most important final of the several in a career which have ended with his collecting a gold medal at the end of it. But Pirlo’s recollection of the day he won the World Cup with Italy is only partial because for some of the lead-up he was happily unconscious.

Pirlo slept well, as he remembers, in his Berlin hotel before the Italy team set off for the stadium, where, on Saturday, he will represent Juventus in the Uefa Champions League final. Nerves? They only came later. "I spent the afternoon sleeping, and playing PlayStation," he records, deliberately deadpan, in his autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play. "Then in the evening, I went out and won the World Cup."

Pirlo is famously cool, calm, unflustered. A turn on the PlayStation, then a nap, then a World Cup final. It wasn’t as simple as that, of course, and one memory of Berlin is especially vivid for Pirlo. His Italy and France had drawn 1-1, after extra time. France’s Zinedine Zidane had been sent off for butting Marco Materazzi off the ball and it came down to a shoot-out. Pirlo remembers the stark colour of the “ultra-green pitch of the Olimpiastadion,” and, just after the 90 minutes were up, “a moment that seems very much my own.

“Marcello Lippi, the Italy coach, approached me at the end of normal time. Bells started to ring in my mind, but not so loudly that I didn’t hear the two words that great coach said to me. They were: ‘You’re first’. We all knew what he meant: First to take a penalty, the man to start the torture sequence in the biggest match any player can ever imagine. Being the first is not necessarily good news. It means you’re deemed the best at penalties. And it means, if you miss, you’re going to be top of the list of bad guys.”

Pirlo scored, as did each of the other four Italians Lippi designated as penalty takers. France’s David Trezeguet turned out the bad guy. He struck his spot kick against the crossbar.

Poor Trezeguet. The impression left on the goalkeeper who he faced in that decisive moment was that the French striker "felt scared". Trezeguet had every reason to, and not just because of what was at stake. He knew intimately how good the Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was at stopping shots from 12 yards. Trezeguet had at that stage been shooting at Buffon for five years, day in, day out, in training because they were Juventus teammates. "David might disagree," Buffon later recalled, "but I think he misplaced his shot because he was scared seeing me in front of him."

So Berlin is hugely resonant for Pirlo, 36 and Buffon, 37, who will be Juventus’ senior players against Barcelona. It is resonant for Juventus, too, because they had no fewer than eight players involved in that World Cup final, Trezeguet one of three in France’s team, Buffon one of five in Italy’s (although Pirlo was then with AC Milan).

All eight knew that immediately after Berlin, win or lose, they had a huge decision to make. Juventus, their employer, had been implicated in a scandal, “calciopoli”, some of their executives found to have systemically manipulated match officials in Italian domestic football. Juventus were stripped of the Serie A title they had “won” that May, and relegated to the second division.

Most of their stars left rather than play lower-tier football through 2006/07. Trezeguet stayed, however, and so did Buffon. Thus began the Juventus goalkeeper and captain’s journey from his club’s low point of ignominy back to respectability. And now to the summit of club football. Nine years after the World Cup was lifted by an Italy built around Juventus players, Juventus are back in the German capital.

“From Berlin to B ... from B to Berlin,” said Buffon after Juventus knocked Real Madrid out of the Champions League semi-final last month. By B, he meant Serie B, where he found himself playing straight after winning the World Cup. Buffon calls it “fate”, that Juventus’ first European Cup final for 12 years should take place in the arena where he, and Pirlo – and indeed Andrea Barzagli, the Juventus defender who is struggling to be fit for Saturday’s showdown because of injury – achieved the greatest triumph in their sport. When they fix their eyes on the Olympic stadium’s “ultra-green” pitch on Saturday, the memories can only inspire.

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