The long slide down for Juventus

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> It's a new-look Juventus, which now has a different view of Italian soccer.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:35 IST
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Rimini, Italy:

It's a new-look Juventus, which now has a different view of Italian soccer. In July, Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluigi Buffon and Mauro Camoranesi lifted the World Cup trophy before a packed stadium, with hundreds of millions watching around the world. They are a long, long way from that now. A 27-time Italian league champion that has never played outside the Serie A, Juventus has seen a half dozen from its star-laden roster transfer away. It has gone from playing in soccer cathedrals in Milan and Rome to small stadia in towns like Rimini with fading paint. What's more, Juventus is not even winning. The one-time power, playing its first game in Italy's second division, was held to a 1-1 draw Saturday by a Rimini team reduced to 10 men. The result against a team that finished 17th in Serie B last season was a troubling omen for Juventus, which is trying to return to the top division after being banished for its involvement in Italy's match-fixing scandal. "Shock at Rimini" and "Juve, it's so tough in B" were the headlines on the Gazzetta dello Sport and Corriere dello Sport dailies on Sunday, with commentators agreeing that Juventus' season promises to be anything but a stroll back to the top tier. The game took place in the charged atmosphere of 10,000-seat Romeo Neri stadium, a sharp contrast to the sprawling venues normally associated with some of Juventus' most memorable games. "When we entered the field we felt a bit strange in this small, full stadium," Del Piero said in Monday's Turin-based daily La Stampa. Hundreds spent the night camped in front of the stadium last week waiting for the box office to open. A local newspaper gave out commemorative T-shirts for the game that read, "I was there". Temporary seating was added at the last minute to boost capacity by a few hundred. Still, it was difficult to accommodate Juventus officials as well as members of the Agnelli family, the founders of the Fiat auto empire who also own the Turin club. After the game, Buffon called for swift change, recognising that most Serie B teams will be ready to give it all when facing Juventus. "We didn't have the right attitude," the goalkeeper said. "We played with a smile. Next time we'd better play with a knife between our teeth, because that's what we need in B." Split allegiance But the setting is not without its charms. "There is a closer relation with the opponent and with the public," Buffon said. "I like these small stadiums. This is real soccer." Juventus is Italy's most popular team, and the unprecedented demotion will test many of the club's 14 million fans across the country. Fans in provincial Italy who support the Turin giant also root for their small hometown teams. And now those teams play Juventus. "We never thought these two teams would meet," said lawyer Marialuisa Trippitelli, one of many Rimini fans with a double allegiance. Trippitelli said she decided upon entering the stadium to root for the home team. Her 11-year-old son, Giulio, solved the problem by wearing a Rimini cap and a Juve scarf. Led by Del Piero and Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved, Juventus dominated most of the game but failed to capitalize on the second-half goal of Matteo Paro and the red card given to Rimini's Domenico Cristiano. Adrian Ricchiuti scored the equalizer to send home crowd cheering wildly. The draw sent a buzz through Rimini, a mass tourism destination and nightlife hub that mostly shuts down at summer's end as Italian and European vacationers return home. The game was the talk of the town, and boastful locals had plenty of advice for Juventus. "Having all those champions won't help them," said Enzo Signorini, a 42-year-old Rimini fan sipping espresso at a bar. "They have to be more humble and work harder because here in B we fight from the first to the last minute." Juventus will have to adapt fast. Besides being demoted to Serie B for the first time in its 109-year-history, it also needs to surmount a 17-point penalty that accompanied relegation. A sports tribunal in July relegated the team and stripped it of its last two league titles, saying club officials had been at the center of a network of corruption that tried to influence refereeing appointments. Top teams AC Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina also were sanctioned, receiving point penalties but remaining in Serie A. The scandal caused a mass exodus that led to the transfer of half of last season's starting lineup, including Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Lilian Thuram, Emerson, Patrick Vieira and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yet, Juventus still commands respect from opponents. Consider Ricchiuti, the Argentine playmaker for Rimini. After coolly placing his shot past Buffon he had only one pressing concern. "To score a goal against a world champion was quite a satisfaction," he said. "But the most important thing is to get the picture someone took of me and Del Piero. Please send it to me. Otherwise, my mother will get so angry." (AP)