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Pirlo rues mistakes after Juve’s UCL exit; De Ligt brands loss ‘very difficult’


Juventus’ Italian coach Andrea Pirlo (L) looks on as Juventus’ Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (R) warms up prior to the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg football match between Juventus Turin and FC Porto on March 9, 2021 at the Juventus stadium in Turin. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Juventus’ first season under Andrea Pirlo has seen peaks and valleys, but nothing lower than Tuesday’s exit from the Champions League.

Down 2-1 after one leg, the Old Lady conceded an early goal to Porto. Federico Chiesa scored two goals sandwiched around a 54th-minute Porto red card, but the game headed to extra time at 3-3.

Sergio Oliveira then put a free kick under the wall as Adrien Rabio leapt and Cristiano Ronaldo turned away before the ball was struck between his legs. Ex-Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny dove and got a hand to the ball, but just served to slap it into the side panel.

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Pirlo took some blame for the players’ errors, though it was clear he didn’t have to proffer such an excuse.

“We choose the players to go in the wall. It had never happened before that they’d turn around, maybe they felt it was so far out that they didn’t sense the danger,” replied Pirlo, via Football Italia. “It was a mistake, it usually doesn’t happen, the players didn’t feel it was a dangerous situation and conceded a goal.”

There will be questions about Pirlo’s tenure given the UCL exit, and Juventus’ sinking odds to win a 10th-straight scudetto. The Old Lady is 10 points back of leaders Inter Milan with a match-in-hand.

Those questions feel early and off-base as the club is at the start of a roster revolution.

Juve bought youngsters Weston McKennie, Dejan Kulusevski, and Matthijs de Ligt and has Chiesa on loan, while Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi, and Sami Khedira are among the veterans to make recent exits.

De Ligt is one of those players who opted for Juventus because every season brings goals of winning every competition. He’s stung.

“Of course the game changes the season, because we want to be in the Champions League and now we are out in March,” De Ligt said. “This is very difficult for us.”

Pirlo is not worried about his future despite the loss. He says he’s ready to get back to work and rebuild the club’s spirit following a crushing loss.

Juventus is out of the UCL at the Round of 16 for the second-straight season after two-consecutive quarterfinal exits before that. The Serie A giants last won the European Cup in 1996.

“There are games and games, these things happen in the life of a coach. It’s the first for me, it’s bad, but we have to roll our sleeves up, knowing it’s only March and we have young players who are growing with every match and put the effort in. I don’t think we can complain to the players or ask for more, as they gave their all today and it can happen that some players have an off night.”

Follow @NicholasMendola