Ever since they first stepped onto the field in 2017, Juventus Women has been the class of Serie A Femminile. They’ve won four straight league titles and are well on their way to their fifth, and when you combine that with the other trophies they’ve won over the last 4 1⁄2 years, it’s pretty safe to say there’s is one gold standard in Italy — and it wears black and white.
But for everything they’ve achieved in Italy, it’s been a different story in Europe this season.
Well, not so much when it comes to winning. They have, to the surprise to many, done a fair bit of that. It’s the fact that Juve, with all the good they’ve done domestically, have been the underdog in just about every big Women’s Champions League fixture they’ve played in this season. That’s not to say they’re a bad team because they obviously aren’t. But being the underdog has been a role that manager Joe Montemurro has had this team thriving in no matter if they’re lining up against Chelsea, Wolfsburg or, come later Thursday night, one of the UWCL’s true giants in Lyon.
Juventus Women hold an incredibly surprising 2-1 aggregate lead heading into the second leg in France thanks to goals from Cristiana Girelli and super-sub Agnese Bonfantini last Wednesday night in Turin. It’s the kind of scoreline that few predicted would be in place after 90 minutes of the quarterfinal matchup.
Basically, those two goals have allowed us to believe and allowed the squad to believe more than they ever have before. You know, believe that the Women’s Champions League quarterfinals might not be the end of the road. Believe that a completely unexpected run to the semifinals is actually possible if the next 90 minutes — and hopefully not much longer than that because that would just be agonizing as all hell — go Juve’s way more than Lyon’s.
For a second or two, just think about how Juventus Women got to this point.
Back in the fall, qualifying for the group stage — something that is the major difference (besides the results of this season’s Women’s Champions League and the other years Juventus Women has competed in Europe — was thought to be a pretty tough task. Juve had just come off two UWCL eliminations by two of the top clubs in the game, first Barcelona and then this same Lyon side. Chelsea, the odds-on favorite to top the group, was a finalist last season and Wolfsburg was one of the best clubs to come out of Pot 2. Juve were, understandably, the team mostly everybody thought would finish third and the distance between the top two sides was fairly noticeable.
They were, as you might have guessed based on where I’m going with all of this, the underdog in the group stage. (No offense, Servette, but minor miracles don’t happen every season in this sport — especially with how good the women’s game has gotten.)
Rather than succumb to expectations, Montemurro’s side bucked the trend. Entering Thursday night’s second leg against Lyon, Juve has lost just once in the entirety of the competition this season, a 2-1 heartbreaker against Chelsea at the Juventus Stadium. They defended like hell and got a point in London, one that proved to be the difference in qualifying for the knockout round. They’ve gotten points in Germany when they stunned Wolfsburg on its home ground. They’ve beaten Wolfsburg and, just last week, Lyon. It’s been the kind of European campaign that certainly not many thought possible but has become a reality because of both their play and Montemurro essentially pushing the right buttons every single time has team takes the field.
Juve goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin summed it up during Wednesday’s pre-match press conference, saying: “I never thought we would have reached this far in the tournament when we set off in August. We work hard everyday to reach these results though, and we are ready for the challenge that awaits us tomorrow.”
Peyraud-Magnin, who will be playing in her hometown Thursday night, knows better than most what kind of challenge Lyon bring. She has had two stints with Lyon, including during their run to the UWCL title in 2018. She will again be lining up against players she’s teammates with on the French national team. She’s well aware of what it takes for a team to make it this far and beyond.
But during previous Women’s Champions League runs, Peyraud-Magnin was on the team thought to be a serious contender for winning the whole damn thing.
Even the most optimistic or die-hard Juventus Women supporter wouldn’t have thought a deep Women’s Champions League run was possible this season. It was supposed to be, at least from the outside looking in, the season in which Montemurro — who arrived from Arsenal last summer following a very successful four years at the helm — put down the foundation for hopefully an improved European footprint down the road as professionalism arrived in Italy. Everything has seemingly gone ahead of schedule, and the very realization that Montemurro and Juventus Women could oust another one of Europe’s biggest clubs — remember, because Juve and Chelsea drew 0-0 it was the Bianconere who had the upper-hand on the final day of the group stage — is just simply stunning.
They’re 90 or so minutes away from being one of the last four teams standing in the Women’s Champions League. That’s just crazy to even enter my thought process, but it is very much a reality that could come to fruition if they manage Thursday night’s game in the same kind of fashion that they’ve managed this run to the quarterfinals as a whole.
Nobody expected the underdogs in Europe who are so dominant against domestic opposition to even come close to this step of the game. But they’re close to doing it. So very close.