There's no question Juventus will be the favourites when the Scottish referee William Collum starts the game between the Old Lady and Bayer 04 at 21.00 CET. However, Rudi Völler will definitely not be overawed. Instead the target is "to produce a top performance at the big favourites and get a result if possible," said the sporting managing director ahead of flying out to Italy. Völler is not the only one to believe that Juventus are a club "who want to win the Champions League. But I also believe we will be able to give them a game. They have to beat us first. We'll get our chances."
For that to work, Bayer 04 will not only need to concentrate on the five-time World Player of the Year and current European Championships winner. "Juve are not just Cristiano Ronaldo," warned Völler, "even though he's definitely the absolute top star. As an Italian team should have, they have an outstanding defence and give little away." So a huge amount of work faces the team under head coach Peter Bosz.
Rudi Völler played for Roma from 1987 to 1992. And during that time he earned much respect, recognition and support amongst the tifosi – also away from the Italian capital. After landing in Turin, Völler was again and again approached by Italian fans looking for selfies. "It's great that the people remember me so well," said Völler.
While the 200-strong party from Leverkusen landed at the airport in Turin at 14.24 CET on Monday, the Juventus pre-match press conference started shortly afterwards. The Juve coach Maurizio Sarri was full of respect for Bayer 04. "It will be a very difficult game," said the 60-year-old. "Leverkusen have the highest rate of possession in the whole of the Bundesliga. They are physically strong and good at dribbling." His players take a similar view. "Leverkusen are strong opponents and all opposition sides in the Champions League are tough," said striker Paulo Dybala. And team-mate Juan Cuadrado added: "Leverkusen are tough opponents. We'll have to play with maximum concentration."
The three names are music to the ears of football fans. Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain have scored over 1,000 goals together in their careers to date. Playing the three together in the game against Bayer 04 from the start is an "interesting suggestion," said Sarri, "but we don't have the right balance for that yet. So we can only do that in certain phases of a game."
He is the bogeyman for German teams playing in the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 26 goals in 24 games against German clubs. But he has never featured for opponents of Bayer 04. The Werkself have played in the Champions League six times in the past ten years and have never faced the Portuguese superstar from Juventus. One player in the current squad has come up against CR7 – defender Sven Bender has played against Ronaldo and Co. four times. And he has a decent record: Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid met four times in the 2012/13 season – there were two wins, one draw and one defeat for the eventual finalists. So it's no surprise that Sven Bender is optimistic ahead of his 50th appearance in Europe's premier club competition: "We are a team who can play anybody and beat everybody," said the former Germany international: "We know how difficult it will be, particularly away from home. But we have to do everything we can to get a result from this game."
The Werkself number one has not lost his sense of humour. "I hope my pass completion is better against Juve than it was against (Lokomotiv) Moscow," said Lukas Hradecky, whose misplaced pass in the first group match ended up at the feet of Dmitri Barimov for the goal to make it 2-1 on 37 minutes. Since then he has kept clean sheets against FC Union Berlin (2-0) and FC Augsburg (3-0) and is looking to build on the two wins in the league along with his team-mates. "We want to focus on producing a strong performance – then anything is possible," said the confident keeper who can count on family support from the stands. His parents will be at the stadium in Turin as he revealed in an interview with Bayer 04 TV at the airport.
His parents won't be his only fellow countryman at the Juventus Stadium. Following the press conference, Lukas Hradecky had an interview with the Finnish broadcaster mtv3. And the interviewer was a familiar face from the Bundesliga. The long-term Werder pro Petri Pasanen – a player for Bremen from 2004 to 2011 – but now on the other side of the microphone working for the broadcaster that shows the Champions League games in Finland. "A lot of former players work in television in Finland," revealed Hradecky who can imagine doing something similar after he retires.
In addition to the first team and the U19s ,who play Juventus at 14.00 CET in a UEFA Youth League game, the Black and Reds Veterans are also in Turin. Led by Gerd Kentschke and Jürgen Gelsdorf, Christian Schreier, Patrick Helmes, Zoltan Sebescen and team-mates will not only watch the game at the Juventus Stadium but they have also completed a Q&A session with the travelling fans. And there is also a birthday boy: Sebescen, who played in the Champions League final with Bayer 04 and 2002, is 44 today. Happy birthday Zoltan!
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