BY SEBASTIAN SALAZAR
"I’m not that surprised,” D.C. United midfielder Markus Halsti declared when asked about Juventus’ run to this weekend's Champions League Final against Spanish power Barcelona.
“A little surprised maybe that they are in the final,” the long-time veteran of European soccer admitted.
Halsti would know.
Prior to his arrival in Major League Soccer, Halsti -- a Finnish international -- made 115 appearances for Swedish power Malmo FF from 2008-14. With the 31-year-old starting in midfield, Malmo faced Juventus twice during the group phase of the 2014-15 Champions League competition.
“I played a lot against [Paul] Pogba…he’s pretty physical, I can say that,” Halsti noted while recalling his battles with the young French superstar. "I don’t know about the duels, like [percentage won], but probably I didn’t win that many duels against him."
If Pogba was Halsti’s biggest challenge, facing Andrea Pirlo was the Finn’s biggest thrill.
“I like pretty much everything about that guy,” Halsti said of the Italian string-puller.
Pirlo was absent when the teams first met last September, but the midfielder went all 90 minutes in Juventus’ late-November victory on Swedish soil. The Italian club won both contests by identical 2-0 scorelines.
"To win they scored the first goal 60 minutes in and then a free-kick around the 80th minute,” said Halsti. "It was pretty even as a whole. A good team, you can say that, a good team and I’m hoping they can take the Champions League home.”
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