Overcoming Champions League disappointment a mental game for Juventus
As the dust settles on what has been an emotional roller-coaster of a week, Juventus have been forced to move on and accept their fate.
They may no longer be fighting for the Champions League, a competition they thoroughly feel they deserved to be a part of, but they still have other objectives to fulfill.
The sad truth is that after winning so many domestic trophies, Europe is all Juve and their fans covet. They had invested, built, united, produced comebacks and fought only to find themselves dumped out once again. Except this time, it all just seems slightly unfair.
They came so close to not only remaining in a competition that would have no longer boasted a Spanish giant but of reminding Europe of the strength of Calcio -- it's been 15 years since Italy has had two semifinalists in the Champions League.
After a week in which both Barcelona and Real Madrid had comprehensively trashed Italian sides in the first leg, the peninsula was seething. Spain, the inaccessible planet, was light years ahead in ability, technique and mentality when it came to football. When you combine those two losses with Italy's failure to qualify for the World Cup, Calcio was all but dead.
Roma's comeback made people take notice but had Juve achieved their own minor miracle then history would have been made and the gauntlet thrown down. Calcio will never die. Instead, Gianluigi Buffon's reputation is being questioned, Juventus are being judged for being sore losers while their players, despite being proud, are struggling to move on.
"I'm more and more disgusted by the world of football," said Mehdi Benatia, the man adjudged to have produced the foul and conceded the penalty.
Massimiliano Allegri has to once again rally his men, regroup and try to motivate the side to keep moving forward with the hope that next year they will have another chance at achieving something special, albeit without their beloved captain. Such is life and perhaps next time, Juve won't have to produce a comeback to move forward in Europe.
But until they are allowed to dream again, domestic titles need to be won.
It starts again on Sunday afternoon when the Old Lady hosts Sampdoria. One of the better attacking sides in Serie A, the Blucerchiati have struggled in recent weeks. Having only won one of their last five games, they have been frustrated, well defended against and punished for their mistakes. Now they are in danger of falling further down the table if they cannot return to winning ways.
In truth, Marco Giampaolo's men had perhaps overachieved, winning matches impressively at the start of the season despite selling off their best players including the likes of Milan Skriniar, Luis Muriel and Patrik Schick over the summer. While the coach agrees with that assessment, he also feels certain defeats were down to a weak mentality.
Winning against Juventus would certainly help lift the club and renew faith but they will need to play a perfect game, a precise and determined one to produce a challenge in Turin. The real question is, what type of side will they be facing? A broken or determined one?
It is absolutely understandable if Juve struggle to produce the best version of themselves on Sunday afternoon. Footballers must be professional, but they are still mere mortals, which is why Allegri had pushed his side to try to achieve a small gap at the top of the table, to make allowances for days in which his group of men may struggle to produce.
However, Juve are Juve and as such are always expected to triumph. Rather than continue to dwell on a result they cannot change, they must instead focus on the games and the trophies they have yet to win, motivated by the sheer capability of this group.
This Juventus side, one that is not only full of ageing players but often criticised for their perceived lack of style, nearly overcame the European champions in the Bernabeu -- a team boasting a handful of champions and the best player in the world.
Juventus know that they can produce brilliance when they concentrate, and that should motivate the side to train harder, do better and live up to their expectations both at home and in Europe in the future. This may not be the most illustrious group of players but they are a special unit with a very special coach who have continued to impress even the most pessimistic among us.
Allegri in particular not only produced an excellent game on Wednesday evening tactically, but handled the fallout and the madness thereafter incredibly well. He defended his captain, remained humble and accepting of the side's mistakes but proved hopeful and optimistic for the future. He knows Juve have to win the domestic double this season and is determined to guide them forward.
Set to play a 4-2-3-1, the Bianconeri will be prepared tactically against Sampdoria. Their fans will only hope they are prepared mentally to keep producing what is expected of them.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.