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Chiellini keen to help Italy after int’l retirement U-turn

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Veteran Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini is keen to use his experience to help the Azzurri youngsters after going back on his decision to retire from international duty.

[ MORE: What is the UEFA Nations League, and how does it work? ]

Chiellini, 34, was one of a number of players who announced they were quitting the national team after November’s playoff loss to Sweden saw Italy fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in nearly six decades.

However, he’s now back in the squad for the opening UEFA Nations League matches against Poland and Portugal.

“I did weigh up a few things, discussed it with my friends,” Chiellini said on Thursday. “I didn’t know if I would return, but I think that already by the next morning I had dragged myself away from that, I let all those thoughts go above my head.

“There is an atmosphere of calm, of great desire to do something, to look forward, to not think what happened. The enthusiasm that youngsters give you carries you along. Moreover, in Italy you cannot leave the national team. I hope that I will never be a problem for this group.”

Italy hosts Poland in Bologna on Friday then visits Portugal three days later. They are Roberto Mancini’s first competitive matches in charge and the Azzurri’s first since the playoff defeat.

In the absence of Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi – who are not quite retired from international duty and available if called upon – Chiellini has been given the captain’s armband.

[ MORE: Predicting the UEFA Nations League ]

“I consider myself one of the captains of this team,” said Chiellini, who has worn the armband three times before. “There are others currently out of the side, like Daniele or Gigione, who are still playing.

“There are many young, talented players who I can perhaps help with my experience and the fact that I’m accustomed to playing at certain levels, to make them understand that something that you need in order to play with a bit more consistency. But there’s talent, it’s not true that it’s lacking.”

Chiellini needs four more appearances for Italy to reach the 100 mark, which would move him up to seventh in the all-time list for the Azzurri.

“I have never put limits on myself,” the Juventus defender said. “I’m happy to be part of this group. However, I would still be calm and happy if in October I wasn’t here.

“The number of appearances is a thought but not a priority. If I’m here it’s because I care. I like to take it day by day.”

Chiellini says Juve used “history of Tottenham”; Reflects on Astori

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Giorgio Chiellini played with passion on Wednesday as Juventus eliminated Tottenham Hotspur from the UEFA Champions League.

Following the emotional win, the stalwart Italian defender shifted gears.

Chiellini will attend the funeral of Fiorentina captain and 14-times capped Italian center back Davide Astori on Thursday, and said he’s “cried many times” over the defender.

[ MORE: The latest on Davide Astori’s passing ]

Astori died over the weekend, and Serie A postponed its Sunday matches. The 31-year-old was found deceased in his hotel room, and has since had his number retired by Fiorentina and Cagliari.

Fiorentina also guaranteed his contract for life in order to benefit his wife and children. Here’s Chiellini, from the BBC:

“We dedicate this win to him but not only this match. I cry many times, I always believe in him because he was a fantastic player,” said Chiellini, who fought back the tears during a minute’s silence before the game.

“It’s very difficult during the match because we have to think of the game and our opponents. It is not easy but he will always be in our heart. And tomorrow we go to give last ‘ciao’ with our teammates.

“It’s difficult but we have to continue our lives. For us he was important for our national team, he always brought positive emotion and always smiled. We would like to continue to smile in our heart.”

As for the match, Chiellini had some biting words for Spurs fans.

The Italian believes Juve’s mettle is what got them through, and Spurs’ lack of big game success came back to bite them.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things from Wembley ]

“It’s the history of Tottenham,” he said. “They always created many chances to score so much, but at the end they miss always something to arrive at the end. We believe in the history. We saw it yesterday between Paris and Real, the history is important, with experience it is important, and tonight we use our skill and arrive at the win.”

It’s to the point, but there was something to the grind and vigor in which Juve pursued the win while Spurs lost their way up 1-0. Yes, Tottenham kept fighting for an equalizer, but there was a sense that The Old Lady would find a way once Higuain made it 1-1.

Juve boss Max Allegri had a similar way to sum it up:

Juventus comes back, eliminate Spurs from Champions League

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Juventus’ Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala scored quickfire second half goals to battle back past Spurs 2-1 — 4-3 on aggregate — and send The Old Lady into the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

Heung-Min Son scored the lone Spurs goal to give the hosts a 1-0 lead at Wembley Stadium, but Tottenham failed in its bid to reach a first quarterfinal since 2011.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Harry Kane burst inside and past Giorgio Chiellini, then moved by Gianluigi Buffon but couldn’t cut his shot inside the goal post.

Douglas Costa was not given a penalty when Jan Vertonghen clipped his ankle in the box, perhaps because the Brazilian did not go down and instead tried to continue his dribble.

Instant replay is a beaut, but how this wasn’t called a penalty in real time we’ll probably never understand. So many refs!

Vertonghen would pick up a yellow card soon after, and the match devolved for a bit into a series of chippy incidents after (and during) hard tackles. Sandro earned one in the 35th.

Moments after Son dragged a shot wide of goal, the South Korean put Spurs ahead 1-0 and ensured Juventus would need at least two goals to win. Kieran Trippier‘s cross zipped through the 18 and Son got enough of the shot to score.

Miralem Pjanic placed a 41st minute shot wide of the near post within two minutes of the Londoners’ opener.

Chiellini saw yellow for a edgy tackle on Dele Alli two minutes before the hour mark.

Then it all fell apart for Spurs.

Juventus earned new life when Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier were watching Sami Khedira’s header and not Higuain’s move to the back post to push it past Lloris.

Within two minutes, Dybala raced past Ben Davies to catch Higuain’s pass and beat Lloris 1v1. Poor from Spurs, euphoria for The Old Lady.

Spurs pushed hard, but an emotional Juve defended with vigor. Chiellini had a fine intervention to force a corner in the 79th minute.

Any Juve’s aggrieved penalty feelings received some salve when Chiellini’s blocked shot in the 18 rebounded off his arm but went uncalled by the referee.

Then, pure anguish: Kane nodded off the ground and the post and sub Erik Lamela couldn’t get his bearing to redirect the rebound before Andrea Barzagli cleared the ball.

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Italy’s once-vaunted ‘BBC’ defense is showing its age

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ROME (AP) With a combined age of 99, Italy’s once vaunted “BBC” defensive trio is showing its years.

The Azzurri will still rely on Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup playoff against Sweden next month but the signs in Serie A lately have not been encouraging.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Bonucci’s red card with AC Milan over the weekend was the latest in a series of poor performances after his high-profile transfer from Juventus made him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Chiellini and Barzagli were beaten for goals twice by Ciro Immobile in Juventus’ 2-1 home loss to Lazio less than 10 days ago, and Chiellini was again off form in the Bianconeri’s 6-2 victory over Udinese on Sunday.

Chiellini was fooled by Stipe Perica for Udinese’s first goal and then left Danilo unmarked to head in another as he appealed for an offside call that never came.

Bonucci is 30, Chiellini is 33 and Barzagli is 36.

While Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has shown interest in developing new talent, he has shown no indication that he plans to cast aside the “BBC” when it counts.

After all, Italy has historically been slow to incorporate younger players, especially defenders.

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That means the likes of Daniele Rugani (who plays for Juventus), Alessio Romagnoli (Milan) or Mattia Caldara (Atalanta) – who are all in their 20s – may have to wait for their chances with the Azzurri.

But Ventura would do well to remember how Marcello Lippi kept Fabio Cannavaro and other veterans in the lineup at the 2010 World Cup only to acknowledge after the first-round exit that he made a mistake and was overly influenced by the older players’ performance en route to the title four years earlier.

From Franco Baresi to Giuseppe Bergomi to Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Cannavaro and the “BBC,” strong center backs have been a source of uninterrupted pride for the Azzurri for decades.

Gianluigi Buffon in goal has also provided a security blanket for nearly 20 years but he, too, is approaching the end of his career and will likely retire after this season – or after his record sixth World Cup if Italy qualifies.

Italy’s hopes of avoiding the playoffs were dashed with a debilitating 3-0 loss in Spain last month that offered a first hint of defensive problems. The defeat ended Italy’s 11-year unbeaten run in qualifiers for World Cups and European Championships.

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The Azzurri attributed the loss to Spain on Sept. 2 to a lack of physical condition so early in the season.

Bonucci, it was figured, just needed some time to adapt to his new surroundings at Milan.

In July, Bonucci completed a surprise transfer from Juventus, where he clashed with coach Massimiliano Allegri last season and was memorably left in the tribune for a Champions League match at Porto.

The transfer fee topped 40 million euros (nearly $50 million) and Bonucci signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros (nearly $12 million) per season. He was also made captain before he ever wore a Milan shirt.

When Milan started to falter a month ago, physical trainer Emanuele Marra was fired – reportedly in large part because Bonucci demanded better fitness preparation.

But Bonucci was out run by Mauro Icardi on Inter Milan’s first goal when the striker scored a hat trick in a 3-2 derby win eight days ago. He was also to blame for the second, failing to mark Icardi in the area.

Things got even worse for Bonucci when he was sent off in the first half of Milan’s 0-0 draw at home with Genoa on Sunday for elbowing a defender in the head as he jostled for position on a free kick.

[ LIGUE 1: Neymar sent off ]

Bonucci will likely be given a multiple-match ban, which would exclude him from facing Juventus next Sunday and could affect his form for the Nov. 10 and 13 playoffs.

“Leo is a champion,” Buffon said. “He’ll become decisive again. But it makes me feel calmer knowing that we won’t have to face him on Saturday.”

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Juventus throttles Barcelona in commanding first leg UCL win

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It was a dream start for Juventus on Tuesday night, and now the Italian giants must hold on for one more leg to progress into the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

[ MORE: Bartra suffers hand injury after explosions outside Dortmund bus

Juventus knocked off Barcelona, 3-0, at the Juventus Stadium after a pair of goals from Paulo Dybala set the pace for the Serie A leaders during the first half.

Giorgio Chiellini headed home Miralem Pjanic’s corner kick in the 55th minute to give the hosts a commanding lead in Turin, and there was no turning back for Barcelona on the day.

The Argentine attacker found the back of the net after seven minutes when Dybala’s curling effort beat goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen from inside the penalty area.

Dybala struck again in the 22nd minute after one-timing a left-footed effort past Ter Stegen from Mario Mandzukic’s pass.

For Barcelona, the team’s performance was quite reminiscent of its opening leg effort against Paris Saint Germain several weeks back in the Round of 16.

Despite an overwhelming amount of possession in Italy, Lionel Messi and co. struggled mightily to break down the Juventus backline and couldn’t find a way to beat Gianluigi Buffon.

Barca had a legitimate shout for handball and potentially a penalty in the 69th minute when Chiellini came sliding in to block a Neymar blast from inside the box. The Italian defender had his right arm elevated as he went to ground and the ball appeared to clip it after Neymar’s attempt made its way towards the defender.

The two sides will meet again on April 19th from the Camp Nou as Luis Enrique’s side looks to overcome its current 3-0 deficit.