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Juve class to much for Rovers

The motto "We are Rovers" might easily be replaced with one that says "We are realistic".

Last evening, the Hoops tested themselves against one of the finest sides in Europe and got a lesson in the finer arts of the game.

Faced with the Italian stars Michael O'Neill's side acquitted themselves pretty well. Sure, they lost 2-0, with a goal in each half from the impressive De Oliveria Amauri. But it's to Shamrock Rovers' credit that it didn't finish up an embarrassing defeat.

It could have been worse. Even the manager was worried when Juventus scored in the fourth minute.

"When we lost the goal I did fear how we'd react," says O'Neill afterwards. "Our lads are young players. They're part-time players. Playing against players of that calibre, they need to settle into the game to get belief in their game. We never got that. We never got into the game long enough to get enough belief."

But while they looked all at sea for the first 25 minutes, Rovers began to win more of the ball. Even so, their challenge was easily snuffed out. But they finished the half with a good spell that offered a glimmer of hope.

A second goal by Amauri on 75 minutes wrapped things up for the visitors, who, understandably, were a different class. Where do you start? Physique, strength, pace, skill, first touch, vision, tactical awareness... Juventus had it all. And this from a team that was missing many of the club's best players, including Mauro Comoranesi, Vincenzo Iaquinta and Gianluigi Buffon. Oh, and their season hasn't even started yet.

No wonder Rovers supporters accepted the 2-0 defeat with a footballing stoicism. "We could have been hammered 4-0 by a Welsh pub team," snorted one supporter at the final whistle.

"I think we did okay against a very powerful side. Unfortunately we were beaten by two soft goals."

Michael O'Neill agreed that the goals had been conceded too easily.

"We switched off for the throw-in early in the game which cost us the first goal," he pointed out. "And we switched off for a free-kick in the second half which ultimately led to the second goal. Hopefully there are things we can learn from and incorporate in our game."

In the dressing-room after the match, O'Neill told his players to take on board the valuable lessons they'd just received from the Turin visitors.

"At this level you can't waste time in terms of your recovery," he explained. "You've got to get back the shape of your team and make life difficult for the opposition. As good as Juventus were in possession of the ball, they made quick decisions in possession of the ball. They didn't allow themselves to be caught with the ball. At times I felt we were standing watching a wee bit."

Rovers were made to work hard to contain the Juventus threat. And they didn't shirk. They even created some half-decent chances in the second-half when they figured out a way of playing that didn't involve hoofing high balls into lone striker Gary Twigg, who had to be content with two or three towering defenders.

Seven minutes after the break captain Dan Murray saw his header miss by inches. Chris Turner had a powerful long-range shot sail over the bar.

Juventus were 2-0 up when Robert Bayly had a near miss.

O'Neill will have plenty of text book stuff to pad out his instruction manual after last night's display by Juventus. "The main thing they did particularly well was to keep the ball," he said later. "When it would go to the front players it would stick. They hit us tonight with an awful lot of diagonal balls and they picked up a lot of the second ball off that as well.

"Even when we defended the diagonal ball, both full-backs pushed very high up the pitch and were able to get hold of the ball again."

By comparison, Rovers' honest graft seemed prosaic to the flowing poetry of the Italian masters. How many diagonal balls do you see in your average League of Ireland match?

"They break up your shape by hitting diagonal balls," explained O'Neill. "There were times when we had a solid four or five behind the ball but the diagonal ball takes that out and they're able to play in the area where the ball lands. The two wide players, Simone Pepe and Lanzafame, are very good at coming in off the line. They retained possession of the ball which is crucial for wide players. Not just when they're going at full-backs but to link the play to midfield. It was a tough test for us. Their movement and their ability to move the ball very quickly was, at times, very difficult for us to contend with."

While most classic car lovers have a soft spot for the DeLorean Gullwing Coupe, the real action is to be had with a flash Ferrari.

Similarly, this Juventus side came with many of the added extras.

Brazilian Diego was very lively, covering a lot of ground, winning balls and making telling passes. When he was substituted by Del Piero on 81 minutes, the Italian legend received appreciative applause from the Rovers fans.

"Diego had the ability to hurt us so we were delighted to see him go off," noted O'Neill. "But then we had to deal with del Piero! That's not something we have to face on a weekly basis."

There'll be another sharp reality check for Shamrock Rovers on Sunday when they face Sporting Fingal in Santry. Then they'll pack their bags and head for the second leg in Modena not knowing what star-studded team manager Luigi Delneri will send out against them.

"We'll go and learn from the experience," said O'Neill.

"We have to do ourselves justice. We'll look at the game as a single game and not be concerned with tonight's scoreline.

"We want to make sure we can give a good account of ourselves. We'll approach the game in a cautious manner but we would like to score at least a goal. The whole experience is something the players can learn from."