Juve moves a step closer to rejoining Europe’s elite

Juventus’ win over Real Madrid has strengthened their conviction that they are good enough to rejoin European football’s elite after years of watching the Champions League final stages from the sidelines.

Juventus striker Carlos Tevez smashed home a second-half penalty as the hosts stunned holders Real Madrid with a 2-1 win in an absorbing Champions League semifinal, first leg.

The irrepressible Argentine, playing some of the best football of his career, won the spot kick just before the hour when he was upended by Dani Carvajal on a breakaway and tucked it away to give Juve the edge after a pulsating, open game.

The home side’s Alvaro Morata scored against his old club, although he declined to celebrate, in the ninth minute but Cristiano Ronaldo headed the equalizer for Real in the 27th.

Once regarded as one of the continent’s biggest and most powerful clubs, the twice European champions have had to fight their way back to the top following the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal which saw them stripped of two Serie A titles and relegated.

Their life has been further complicated by the steady decline of Serie A, where dwindling budgets means that clubs are no longer able to attract the world’s top players.

Boosted by the opening of their own stadium in 2011, however, Juventus believe that, by investing wisely, they can once again compete alongside the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

They have already re-established themselves as the dominant force in Italian football and last Saturday wrapped up a fourth successive Serie A title with four matches to spare.

“We wanted to prove to ourselves that we can play at this level and face the European champions on level terms,” said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

The 37-year-old is the only survivor from the Juventus side which beat Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate in their last semi-final appearance in 2003, having stayed at the club even when they played in Serie B in 2006/7.

Juventus were regarded as relative lightweights in the semifinal draw which also featured Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

They spent around 42 million euros in last year’s July-August transfer window, just over half of the amount Real Madrid splashed out on Colombia forward James Rodriguez alone.

But they have spent wisely over the last few years, plucking playmaker Andrea Pirlo from a dead end at AC Milan and rescuing Tevez from a difficult period at Manchester City, in addition to investing in younger players such as Alvaro Morata.

“Regardless of whether we get to the final, we have the basis for the future with lads who play with personality,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri, praising newcomers Stefano Sturaro, Roberto Pereyra and Morata.

Juve’s optimism was a far cry from two years ago, when they were outclassed by Bayern Munich in a 4-0 aggregate defeat in the quarter-finals.

Antonio Conte, their coach at the time, launched an impassioned criticism of Italian football, saying it would be years before a Serie A team could win the Champions League again.

But Tuesday’s win has left them tantalizingly close to Berlin, and with the possibility that Paul Pogba, the jewel in Juve’s crown, could be set for a return after injury in next week’s second leg.

“We need to recognize how important this result is,” said Allegri. “We’ve played good football this season and above all I’d say we showed signs we are superior [to Real]. I think if we want to make the final, we’ve got to deliver a masterpiece in Madrid. We’ve laid the foundations.”