Alvaro Morata and Juventus need to regroup, focus on Serie A, Coppa Italia
Not one Italian team has made it to the quarterfinals of a European competition this season, not in the Champions League nor in the Europa League. However, one team did came close. Juventus stood only a couple of minutes away from recording a historic win against tournament favourites Bayern Munich only to see their former player deliver the assist that condemned them to extra time and their eventual defeat.
If only Patrice Evra put the ball out of play, if only Alvaro Morata's goal was recognised, if only the Spaniard played the full 180 minutes of football. With the youngster on the pitch, Juventus scored three times. He assisted the second goal in Turin and created the second in Germany. Without him on the field the Bianconeri conceded six, two in the first leg and four in Germany.
Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala may be phenomenons who combined for Juve's first goal against their opponents. But few understood how to hurt Bayern Munich quite like Morata, a player who consistently chased space and ran intelligently from deep positions and straight at the shaky backline that was prone to mistakes.
Massimiliano Allegri went from being a hero, for having selected the perfect starting lineup, to a villain for choosing to take off their star striker, replacing him with the Croatian who boasts a different set of skills that failed to cause the opponent problems. A tactician famed for his ability to read the game and bring on the players who could improve the overall team's display, he must concede that on this occasion, he erred.
Or maybe he did just enough.
Not one of Italy's big three sports newspapers could avoid blaming what many labelled as "disastrous refereeing" for the "unjust" defeat. Not only should Morata's offside goal have stood as replays showed he was played onside, but the likes of Corriere dello Sport go so far as to ask whether the Bavarians were lucky to have 11 men on the pitch considering Joshua Kimmich's elbow on Alex Sandro.
Beppe Marotta complained that Italian football ought to be better protected and when Pep Guardiola was asked to respond, he simply replied, "Juventus are too big a club to complain about this. When you lose, you shake hands and go home. You compliment the opposition."
Guardiola knows a thing or two about swallowing certain decisions. After all he did indeed congratulate Real Madrid on their Copa del Rey win in April 2011. He simply added (sarcastically or innocuously depending on where you stand on the matter) that "a two-centimetre decision from a linesman who must have had a very good view ruled out Pedro's goal." For clarification purposes Pedro was offside and the linesman correctly ruled the goal out.
If Pep felt ever so slightly frustrated at a correct decision in a tournament that's arguably considered the least important, then perhaps Juventus should be permitted to feel aggrieved at a wrong decision that has not only cost them financially but hurt their hopes of re-establishing themselves as a European superpower.
However, we must follow in the footsteps of the elegant Allegri who spoke only of Juve's mistakes as opposed to the perceived injustice. After all, this is a young squad and they were suffering with several important absences yet the defeat still hurts and is almost impossible to forget. For an illuminating performance to collapse as spectacularly as it did is almost unfathomable but that is why football entertains, why it provokes the strongest of emotions and why it is watched by millions around the world.
At least the Bianconeri have two more chances for a trophy this season for they not only sit at the top of the Serie A table but they've also reached the Coppa Italia final, hoping to lift the trophy for the 11th time in their history.
Back to Italy and and there's only a few games that ignite the passion quite like the Derby della Mole set to take place on Sunday afternoon. Torino may be far from their best this season but they do boast a former Juventus player looking to exact revenge on the club that once owned him. For some time now Ciro Immobile has sought out the opportunity to hurt the Old Lady and this may be his chance considering the mental and physical exhaustion Juventus are likely experiencing after their European defeat.
If there's one thing that has truly hurt the Bianconeri this season, it has been their ex-players. Fernando Llorente scored the goal for Sevilla that forced Juve to accept second place in their Champions League qualifying group behind Manchester City. That condemned them to a difficult tie against Bayern, while it was Kingsley Coman's performance in Bavaria that ensured their defeat in the round of 16.
Immobile may not be the talented player Juventus miss but he is capable of causing an upset and the team must ensure they recover in time to make for a happy end to the season. They have already demonstrated what they're capable of, now they must keep progressing to fulfil all their sporting dreams in the future.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Minarzouki.