Juventus Women had everything in their favor entering the second leg of their Women’s Champions League qualifying matchup on Wednesday night. They were at home (kinda). They had a squad that’s starting to get healthy again. They had already shown that they could do some good things against their opponent, Danish champions HB Køge, during the first leg last week.
There was just one thing: Because of the 1-1 aggregate scoreline after last Tuesday’s trip to Denmark, the door was very much open for some kind of silliness to potential derail Juventus’ hopes of making the UWCL group stage for the second straight season.
It’s a good thing that Juve both slammed that door shut and then put about 14 deadbolts on it to prevent anything crazy from happening.
It’s back to the Women’s Champions League group stage for Joe Montemurro and the Bianconere thanks to goals from Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir and Sofia Cantore and an absolutely convincing performance in 2-0 win (3-1 on aggregate) over Køge in Alessandria. The difference this time compared to 12 months ago was that making the group stage is now a major objective rather than just the fell-good story it was the first time around. Montemurro’s side now has the bar raised following their quarterfinal run last season that making the group stage is where things start come this year.
And guess what?
They can now check this objective off the list.
This is what Juventus’ continued growth looks like, folks. Has it been a great start to the season? No, of course not. Watching Juve drop points domestically and draw three of their last four games in all competitions is something this team hasn’t done much at all in its existence, let alone since Montemurro took over at the start of last season. But much like last season, when there was a tough patch of results and things weren’t exactly looking as good as they could have been going into a European fixture, it was the Women’s Champions League that kicked things back into gear.
The counting stats in this one don’t make it look as good of a performance as it actually was. Juve “only” outshot Køge 13-8 on the whole. The Danish champs had more corner kicks — twice as many in fact — and things could have gotten interesting if not for some fantastic individual efforts defensively to shut down Køge counterattacks.
But, overall, this was a great showing and the kind of team performance Juve needed to have. It was a win by two goals but it could have very well been more than that based on some of the scoring chances that came awfully close to going on frame.
That’s what good teams do, and that’s what this team has done under Montemurro’s watch in Europe to get to the Women’s Champions League group stage once again.
Two years in a row getting to this point seems like a pretty good development, especially with how tricky this new qualifying format has been since it was put into place at the start of last season. But like so many times before, they managed it well, and they’ve gotten the reward the wholeheartedly deserve because of it.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- It’s officially fall. The summer temperatures are cooling off and things are starting to give off vibes of big jackets, warm cups of coffee even more than usual in Italy and all of the other good things that come with it being October around a place like Turin. For Joe Montemurro, you know what this means? The scarves are back, baby! Our first #ScarfWatch of the 2022-23 season:
- For somebody who went with the white scarf more often than not during his first season with Juve, the blue is a nice touch and a solid choice considering the outfit as a whole. Joe never disappoints.
- Over the past two summer transfer windows, Juventus Women have signed: Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir and Lineth Beerensteyn. That is a mouthful of syllables, and it’s an absolute task of somebody like yours truly who writes for a living. Trust me, typing “Wojciech Szczesny” is a breeze compared to those names.
- Yes, for the record, there was copy-and-pasting done in the bullet above. You know you would, too, so who are you kidding, my friend. I just won’t tell you how many.
- Long last name aside, this was the kind of performance that shows you why Juventus Women signed Gunnarsdóttir. It’s also to hopefully play well in the Women’s Champions League group stage and knockout round(s), but it’s also for this — when you need one of your best players to show up big, there’s Gunnarsdóttir to show up big.
- That header from Gunnarsdóttir that proved to be the goal that allowed Juve to advance to the group stage, I’ll give you one guess as to who had the assist on it.
- Yeah, it was Lisa Boattin. When in doubt, just say Boattin.
- Cecilia Salvai, back from major knee surgery FOR A SECOND TIME for what feels like about an hour and a half, was in what a friend of mine said “midseason, never-was-injured form.” The center back position has been easily the hardest hit spot with injuries so far this season — heck, Gunnarsdottir, Martina Rosucci and Sofie Pedersen have had to play in the back because of it — so to see Salvai come back and play that well is a much-needed boost. She didn’t play a full 90 minutes unlike her start over the weekend against Sassuolo, but she was really, really good again. Which, again, is a big deal considering she is just back from her second major knee injury in three years.
- PPM had to make two saves and I don’t even remember either of them.
- Also one of the standout performers in this one: Julia Grosso, who for somebody that has probably more international experience than European experience at this point looks awfully comfortable in big games even though she’s just 22.
- I’ve made it all this without saying much about Sofia Cantore and I need to change that. Seeing her come back from multiple loan spells this summer was one of the best moves Juve could have made. She’s ready for the big time and her goal to put her team up 2-0 just proves it. It was a fantastic strike, and the kind of hit that shows how much better she is now compared to when she first went out on loan as a teenager.
- Guess what, folks? This is something I’ve never said before: Juventus Women has a really, really good midfield and the likes of Grosso and Arianna Caruso are only getting better. (OK, I lied, I say it all the damn time, but this midfield is so well-constructed that it’s deserved.)
- With so many players back from injury, Montemurro can afford to give some rest to the likes of Caruso and Agnese Bonfantini and not have his team miss a beat. Ah, the luxuries of managing this team when pretty much everybody is healthy.
- Seriously, these were Montemurro’s first four subs: Sara Gama, Sofia Cantore, Martina Rosucci and Barbara Bonansea.
- Here’s another thing: Caruso’s 22, Grosso’s 22, Cantore’s 22, Bonfantini’s 23. Not only has Juve signed some good players, but they’ve continued to mix youth and experience within the roster very well. (The fact that this team has so many good young Italians doesn’t hurt, either.)
- The best part of this whole game? Montemurro had his team pushing immediately for a second goal to try and put this out of reach early. There was no sitting back, no trying to defend the 1-0 lead that his team had just gotten. They were dominating possession, but like they found out in Denmark last week, Køge can make you pay on the counter. Sure, the second goal courtesy of Cantore didn’t happen right away, but they pushed for it.
- The group stage draw is Monday. We’ll see you then, folks.