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EURO 2016 QUALIFIERS

EURO

Juve stars called up for Italy versus Croatia

Italy coach Antonio Conte has called up six Juventus stars into a 28-man squad that will face Croatia in a Euro 2016 qualifier on Friday before hosting Portugal in Geneva four days later.

Juve stars called up for Italy versus Croatia
Andrea Pirlo will be in the thick of the action as Italy faces Croatia. Photo: Oliver Lang/AFP

Juventus were on the wrong end of a 3-1 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona on Saturday in Berlin.

It was Juve's sixth defeat in the final of Europe's premier club competition, but goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio and striker Alessandro Matri will be right back in the thick of the action as Italy go about taking another step towards the 2016 European championships.

Italy, second in Group H two points behind leaders Croatia, face Niko Kovac's side on June 12 at the Poljud stadium in Split looking for their fourth win in five qualifying matches.

A win for Croatia would see them pull five points ahead of Italy and leave Conte's men in danger of being overtaken by Norway, who are only two points adrift ahead of their home game against Azerbaijan.

Although Italy were set to convene on Sunday afternoon for their first training session since the end of the Serie A season, Juve's players have been given “until 2030” to return to the squad's training complex at Coverciano, according to a statement by the FIGC.

Juve's stars should also receive a warm welcome: Conte is the former Juventus coach who steered the Turin giants to three consecutive league titles before quitting and being replaced by Massimiliano Allegri.

Conte, meanwhile, has made several changes to the side that, thanks to Citadin Eder's 84th minute leveller, snatched a 2-2 draw away to Bulgaria in their last Euro 2016 outing in March.

Replacement goalkeeper Daniele Padelli of Torino replaces Genoa's Mattia Perin to join number one Buffon and Paris Saint Germain's Salvator Sirigu.

In defence, Juve defender Giorgio Chiellini is out suspended but Conte has recalled Davide Astori, Matteo Darmian, Mattia De Sciglio and Lorenzo De Silvestri.

Juve midfielder Marchisio returns to the squad having missed Bulgaria through a late injury knock, although AC Milan pair Luca Antontelli and Alessio Cerci, and Mirko Valdifiori of Empoli have been left at home.

The only Italy squad debutant is Nicola Sansone, who joins Sassuolo teammate Simone Zaza among a competitive strike force that includes Antonio Candreva, Stephan El Shaarawy, Manolo Gabbiadini, Ciro Immobile, Matri, Graziano Pelle and Franco Vazquez.

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JUVENTUS

Five reasons why Juventus have won their eighth straight Serie A title

Italian giants Juventus claimed an eighth consecutive Serie A title on Saturday after a 2-1 win at home against Fiorentina.Here are five factors that helped the Turin giants lift a 35th Scudetto with five matches to spare, equalling the record for the earliest any team has won Serie A:

Five reasons why Juventus have won their eighth straight Serie A title
Photos: AFP

Ronaldo effect

Cristiano Ronaldo was signed from Real Madrid for 100 million euros ($112 million) before the start of the season, in a bid to end the Turin giants' 23-year wait for the Champions League trophy.

The 34-year-old left Real as their all-time top scorer, a record he also holds in the Champions League where he is the only player to have won five titles.

Despite their European exit to Ajax, the Portuguese superstar was a key player throughout the campaign with 19 league goals.

Both Juventus' Serie A defeats came in his absence — 2-0 to Genoa on March 17 and 2-1 to SPAL on April 13 — the latter frustrating their bid to wrap up the title with a record six games to spare.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who was defended by Juve last year after being accused of rape, was slow off the mark, having to wait until their fourth game against Sassuolo before scoring a double in a 2-1 win.

“Cristiano is the future of Juventus, he has had an extraordinary season,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri after the Champions League loss.

Rising star Kean

Teenage sensation Moise Kean burst through during Ronaldo's absence through injury, scoring six goals in the last seven matches for Juventus, having played just nine this season.

The 19-year-old, who provides an alternative to Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala up front, admitted: “I learn from Cristiano Ronaldo in training, I steal his secrets.”

Born in Italy to Ivorian parents, his first league appearance this season was just four minutes away against Fiorentina on December 1, with his first goals a double in a 4-1 win over Udinese on March 3.

Controversy overshadowed his only full match for the champions when he was subjected to racist abuse against Cagliari on April 2.

The youngster hit back by scoring in Sardinia and again in the following game against SPAL.

Bonucci back

Leonardo Bonucci returned to Turin after an unhappy season at AC Milan to recreate the so-called 'BBC' defensive partnership alongside veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli.

The absence of the trio through injury was felt when Juventus conceded six goals in two games including a 3-3 draw with Parma on February 2 — days after being eliminated from the Coppa Italia.

“Mr Bonucci and Mr Chiellini could teach lessons at Harvard University about how to be a central defender,” said Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho.

Juventus have conceded only 23 goals in 33 games, the best record in the division.

Safe hands

Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has proven to be a worthy successor to Juventus and Italy icon Gianluigi Buffon, who left for Paris Saint-Germain.

The ex-Arsenal player arrived in Turin in 2017 after falling down the pecking order at the Premier league club.

The 28-year-old got off to a stuttering start in the season opener, conceding two goals in a 3-2 win at Chievo, but has conceded only 15 goals in the 24 times he has played so far this season.

New arrival Mattia Perin, who joined from Genoa last summer, has proved less effective with eight conceded in nine games, and was between the posts for both their league defeats.

Winning ugly

Massimiliano Allegri doesn't mind winning ugly as he claimed his fifth league title in as many years with Juventus, and sixth in Serie A after leading AC Milan to their last title in 2011.

Allegri — who has now won 11 trophies with Juventus — has strenuously defended his team's often-criticised style of play, despite Juve leading the way in the Italian top flight with 67 goals scored.

“Beautiful football doesn't pay off, at the end of the day you've got to just kick it away from your goal,” the 51-year-old fumed after the draw with Parma.

“They need to realise there is no shame in hoofing the ball into the stands if needs be.”

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