Haunted by Euro woes, Conte eyes re­demp­tion

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

FRUS­TRATED by his past fail­ures in the Cham­pi­ons League, Chelsea man­ager An­to­nio Conte has set his sights on a mis­sion of re­demp­tion as he re­turns to the com­pe­ti­tion af­ter a four-year ab­sence.

Conte still bears the scars from a snowy night in Is­tan­bul in 2013 when Ju­ven­tus suf­fered a shock de­feat against Galatasaray that sent the Ital­ian giants crash­ing out of Europe’s elite club com­pe­ti­tion.

That em­bar­rass­ing exit re­mains Conte’s last ex­pe­ri­ence of the Cham­pi­ons League, but he will end that wait to­day when Chelsea host Azer­bai­jan min­nows Qarabag in their Group C opener.

Hav­ing led Chelsea to the Premier League ti­tle last sea­son, the 48-year-old would dearly love to bring the Lon­don club their sec­ond Cham­pi­ons League crown.

But bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence will re­mind Conte to take noth­ing for granted.

In his first Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign in 2012-13, Ju­ven­tus were pit­ted against Conte’s fu­ture em­ploy­ers Chelsea, as well as Shakhtar Donetsk and Nord­s­jael­land.

Conte’s team won the group with an un­beaten run of three wins and three draws, in­clud­ing a 3-0 rout of hold­ers Chelsea in Italy and a 2-2 draw at Stam­ford Bridge.

The Bian­coneri cruised past Celtic in the last 16, with 3-0 and 20 vic­to­ries dis­patch­ing the over­matched Scot­tish club.

But in the quar­ter­fi­nals, Bayern taught them a les­son.

Bayern won 2-0 at home and eased into the semi­fi­nals with an­other vic­tory by the same score in Turin.

The fol­low­ing sea­son, Conte led Ju­ven­tus to the Serie A for a third suc­ces­sive sea­son but it was a far dif­fer­ent story in the Cham­pi­ons League.

Draws against Copen­hagen and Galatasaray in the first two matches put Juve in trou­ble ahead of back to back meet­ings with Real Madrid.

A Cris­tiano Ron­aldo brace con­demned Ju­ven­tus to a 2-1 de­feat in Spain, while the re­turn in Turin pro­duced a 2-2 draw that left Conte on the brink of a hu­mil­i­at­ing early exit.

A 3-1 win over Copen­hagen set up a do or die trip to Galatasaray, where a point would be enough for Juve to ad­vance.

How­ever, fate con­spired against Conte as the tie was halted in the first half with the score 0-0 due to heavy snow­fall.

Forced to play the rest of the match 24 hours later, Juve were frozen out in the most mis­er­able fi­nale.

Just five minutes from achiev­ing the point they needed, Conte was plunged into de­spair as Wes­ley Snei­jer slot­ted in the Galatasaray win­ner.

At­tempt­ing to sal­vage some pride in the Europa League – the sec­ond tier com­pe­ti­tion they were con­signed to af­ter that early exit, once again Conte’s men un­der­achieved.

They got past Trab­zon­spor, Fiorentina and Lyon, but a semi­fi­nal de­feat against Ben­fica came with the added sting of deny­ing them a place in the fi­nal which was to be played at their own Turin sta­dium.

With Chelsea in good form in the Premier League and key play­maker Eden Haz­ard back from in­jury, Conte is keep­ing his fin­gers crossed that Europe is kin­der to him this time. – AFP

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