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Juventus: the penalty that never was

NICOLA Amoruso leads an uncomplicated existence these days as technical director for the youth academy at Serie B side Reggina Calcio, situated on the big toe of Italy.

Nicola Amoruso survives the baying of the Parkhead crowd and the attentions of Neil Lennon in Celtic's 4-3 victory   Photograph: Getty
Nicola Amoruso survives the baying of the Parkhead crowd and the attentions of Neil Lennon in Celtic's 4-3 victory Photograph: Getty

It seems almost a shame to disturb the 38-year-old's life nurturing the footballing talents of the next generation with memories of that fateful evening in Turin's Stadio delle Alpi in September 2001.

For those with short memories, that was when the Juventus substitute used the proximity of Celtic's Joos Valgaeren as an excuse to tumble to earth in the 90th minute, somehow convincing German referee Helmut Krug that the incident merited a penalty. He then dusted himself down and dispatched the spot kick himself to seal a 3-2 victory. It was a result the Italians had threatened to throw away, having allowed a two-goal lead to slip.

Many people are never likely to forgive him for ruining Celtic's Champions League debut, not least manager Martin O'Neill whose fury saw him sent to the stands, and Neil Lennon, who slated Amoruso afterwards for "conning" the ref.

But today, Amoruso freely admits it was never a spot kick. He also asserts that it was the "first and last time" in his 18-year career strewn across 14 different Italian sides, that he simulated in such a fashion.

"I do admit that it was definitely not a penalty," Amoruso said. "I had only been on the pitch for a few minutes, there was one ball in the box, and the Celtic player was near me. It was never a penalty, but the referee gave me the decision and I scored it."

Celtic had the opportunity to gain revenge of sorts in the return leg a month later when Amoruso was subjected to a fair old Celtic Park cacophony in a match that finished with a 4-3 victory against an admittedly weaker Juve side.

"When I came to Glasgow to play the return match all the fans all the time were very angry at me and it was right that they were. Every time that I touched the ball the fans were very, very angry," he said.

"It was the first time and the last time I tried anything like that, although I was a bit surprised by the reaction because it is not the first time that any player has done something like this in a game. But I know the mentality of the Scottish people is very clear on this subject and that is right. That Celtic team were a very good team and that match in Glasgow was a very good match for them, but not for us and certainly not for me."

The incident has come to define Amoruso for a generation of Scottish football fans, but such a fate is unfair for a player who operated at the sharp end of European football for so many years. Amoruso's own progress through the youth ranks came in Genoa with Sampdoria, but his heart always belonged to Juventus, where he spent six years after arriving in 1996, picking up three Scudettos and experiencing a couple of near misses in Champions League finals; he played the last 13 minutes of the Turin club's defeat in 1997 to a Paul Lambert-inspired Borussia Dortmund, and the next year was an unused substitute as they went down to Real Madrid.

While Amoruso quietly retired from playing two years ago following a spell at Atalanta, the only survivor in either playing staff from those epic 2001 meetings is Gianluigi Buffon, who in his first season after his £32 million move from Parma played in the first game but not the second. It may not be rocket science, but Amoruso feels the goalkeeper and his fellow thirtysomething, Andrea Pirlo, could be the difference in this tie.

"When I was younger I was always a Juventus fan so to get the chance to play for them was a dream," Amoruso said. "They are still a team I follow closely. The last few years have been very difficult for them, but Juventus are now one of the best teams in Europe. Antonio Conte had a very big job to do when he arrived because Juventus were in big trouble, but he deserves the credit for building a new mentality there to win in Italy and also in Europe.

"Andrea Pirlo for me is the most important player and the one who makes the difference in a match. He provides the service to the forwards and is by far the most important player in this team, while Buffon is a historic player for the club and is very important for all the fans and the players because he is like a rock for all of them to rely on."

Amoruso feels it may take another two years before Juventus can realistically see themselves as potential Champions League winners, but he backs them to progress through this tie, predicting a 2-2 draw at Parkhead on Tuesday, followed by a Juventus win in the second match in the rebuilt Juventus Stadium on the old Delle Alpi site. But there is, however, a note of caution in his voice, trepidation borne of his ordeal at the hands of the baying Parkhead crowd 11 years ago.

"When you play in the stadium anything is possible," Amoruso said. "You saw that when Celtic played against Barcelona. Once again for Juventus it will be very difficult to play against Celtic in those conditions. I do remember some players at Celtic, in that second match Henrik Larsson and Chris Sutton both scored. But at Celtic it is always the fans in the stadium that are more important. They give the team the energy that they need to win."

As for the dive that made Amoruso infamous in Scotland, he revealed there were certainly no herograms heading in his direction at the time from then Juve boss Marcello Lippi, even though he had won him the match.

"You might have thought Lippi would be happy with me afterwards, but he just said nothing," Amoruso recalled. "Nothing good, nothing bad, just nothing."

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