'Niente Paura'. It’s a song by Luciano Ligabue, Italy’s Bruce Springsteen. and means 'No Fear'. Chosen as the soundtrack by the country's TV and radio stations covering Juventus' visit to Real Madrid tonight, coach Antonio Conte has insisted the Bernabeu is nothing for his players to be afraid of. There’ll be no 'miedo escenico', as they say in Spain: stage fright.
And besides: remember Juventus' last visit to the garden of Di Stefano, Puskas and Gento? It was five years ago. Back in the Champions League for the first time since their relegation following the Calciopoli scandal in 2006, Juventus were hardly the corazzata, or dreadnought, that they have become under Conte.
Alex Manninger was in goal, Olof Mellberg and Cristian Molinaro were at the back, Marco Marchionni, Momo Sissoko and Tiago made up the midfield and Amauri was in attack. Let’s just say it wasn't one of the Old Lady's best looks. But sometimes all you need is a couple of pieces to make a modest outfit shine. Pavel Nedved was one. Alessandro Del Piero the other, the most resplendent of all.
Replaced by Claudio Ranieri in the final minute, the Juventus No.10 received a standing ovation from the Bernabeu. "It was one of the most beautiful moments of my career," Del Piero recalled to La Repubblica. "That night was worth a trophy, and one of the most important ones … I figure that it’s a bit like the conductor of an orchestra receiving a long round of applause from the audience at La Scala, sort of like passing an exam, the diploma from which is valid forever."
For the following morning's La Gazzetta dello Sport, he was 'Ale King of Spain'. Turning 34 that weekend, he’d given himself an early birthday present. Twice Del Piero had got the better of Iker Casillas and his goals claimed a famous 2-0 win for Juventus, their first at the Bernabeu in nearly 46 years.
The virtuoso performance began when a sloppy pass from Guti was seized upon by Marchionni after quarter of an hour. He immediately played the ball into Del Piero, who pirouetted, a movement that was delightful for its simplicity, and ran at Fabio Cannavaro before finding the bottom corner from outside the area. Out came the tongue. That’s when you know Del Piero has scored.
He’d do so again midway through the second half. A clumsy challenge from Cannavaro on Sissoko had yielded a free-kick on the edge of the area and he should have known better than to give one away when Del Piero was on the opposing team. Under the eyes of Diego Maradona, whose dead ball techniques he’d practiced along with those of Michel Platini and Zico while growing up, he executed the perfect 'foglia morta', or 'dead leaf', a shot that faded as it went outside the wall and down into the net.
If all that wasn't enough, a hat-trick looked on too, as Vincenzo Iaquinta crossed for Del Piero in the box and watched as his captain brought the ball under control, turned his man and dragged his shot inches wide of the far post. Pinturicchio, as Gianni Agnelli used to call him, was magnificent. The crowd recognised as such.
To this day it still leaves Del Piero speechless. "The Bernabeu on its feet for me after the two decisive goals … The surprise at getting that applause which got louder and louder and louder … The standing ovation … I will never stop thanking the Madrid fans for that homage. And I’d like to remind you, the reader, that they were losing 2-0 at home. This makes it all the more incredible."
Of the current Juventus team, only Giorgio Chiellini played on that memorable night. Goalkeeper Gigi Buffon of course went there a decade ago for a Champions League semi-final, losing the first leg 2-1 before prevailing a week later back at the old Delle Alpi ground in Turin by a 3-1 scoreline in one of the all-time great Juventus performances. They both know what to expect. As does Fernando Llorente, of course.
"It’s a ground that instills fear," Del Piero admits. "It’s huge, [and imposing]. And it's hot too, noisy and the fans know how to frustrate you with that din of theirs. I know that sensation well, but at times that atmosphere can lift you like nothing else."
Conte will be hoping it lifts his players. Two-nil up and in complete control against Fiorentina on Sunday afternoon, they conceded four goals in the space of 15 second-half minutes and lost their first game of the season.
Questions are being asked of Juventus. Do they have the same hunger as in the last couple of years? Is it time they changed the way they play? A shift from 3-5-2 to 4-3-1-2 is expected tonight. Juventus' disappointing draws away to Copenhagen and at home to Galatasaray mean they require a result if they are to remain in contention to qualify from the group stages.
It’ll take "courage, sacrifice, heart, and tactical organisation," says Conte. That and of course the spirit of Del Piero. He may be in Sydney but make no mistake about it, his presence will be felt at the Santiago Bernabeu.