Sunday 25 February 2018

I will embrace Suarez when we meet insists Chiellini

Chiellini: Wary of Messi threat
Chiellini: Wary of Messi threat

Mark Ogden

For a man who personifies the rugged, uncompromising image of an Italian centre-half, Giorgio Chiellini breaks into a disarming smile when the subject of his first meeting with Luis Suarez since that bite in Brazil is raised with the Juventus defender.

The pre-match handshake prior to Saturday's Champions League final between Juventus and Barcelona is likely to be a focal point with Suarez encountering not only Chiellini, but the Italian's club team-mate, Patrice Evra, who was infamously racially abused by the Uruguayan forward during Manchester United's Premier League fixture against Liverpool at Anfield in October 2011.

Suarez refused to shake Evra's hand when the two men met prior to a league game at Old Trafford four months later, with the Liverpool man still aggrieved by the severity of his eight-match ban. But despite being left with teeth marks in his shoulder as a result of Suarez's assault during a World Cup group fixture last June, Chiellini insists that he bears no grudge against the £75m forward and will shake his hand in Berlin.

"Ha! I will not just shake his hand but also embrace him as well," Chiellini said, when asked how he will greet Suarez. "Anyone who knows me a little knows that I am truly like that.

"For me nothing changes. It's the same thing as marking (Karim) Benzema or Chicharito against Real Madrid. Really, honestly. Ever since we overcame Real to play this game against Barcelona, the only thing that people have wanted to ask me about is Luis Suarez, but really, I have no problem, I don't need to hear from him and I have no hard feelings. It happened, he was sent off. Uruguay won and I lost, so in the end, the only thing I was really sorry about was being out of the World Cup."

Since returning from his lengthy ban in October, Suarez has helped form a lethal attacking triumvirate with Lionel Messi and Neymar that has delivered 120 goals in all competitions for Barcelona.

In Turin, it is the unique threat posed by Messi which is dominating the build-up to Saturday's game - Juventus's first appearance in the Champions League final since losing on penalties to AC Milan in 2003.

The stunning goal scored by the Argentine during Barcelona's Copa del Rey victory against Athletic Bilbao has served to heighten awareness of his mercurial talents, but while admitting that Messi can sometimes prove unstoppable, Chiellini claims he would not have been able to score the Bilbao goal against Italian defenders.

"In Italy he probably would have scored it differently," Chiellini said. "But it would have been more difficult for Messi to score that goal in Italy because we are a bit different in our defensive and offensive mentality.

"In Spain, they play much better football but they defend a lot worse. And we defend a lot better, so who knows? But Messi can score when he wants and we have to be strong to face him. It's difficult to make comparisons with the past and say who is stronger, Messi or Maradona or Pele, but Messi at this moment is the God of Football, the number one of the last 30 or 40 years. He is certainly the outstanding player of our sport." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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