It was April 1, 1998, and the Italian media were playing their usual annual tricks. One of them was that Alessandro Del Piero, the Golden Boy of Italian football, joint-top scorer in Serie A, and arguably the best club player in the world at the time along with Ronaldo, had been ruled out of the evening’s Champions League semi final first leg in Turin against Monaco due to injury.
Of course it proved to be an April Fools prank, as a fit-and-firing Del Piero would have the last laugh, producing an inspirational performance, scoring a hat-trick and making the other, as Juve famously thrashed Monaco 4-1 to put one foot in the final.
For the younger generation who know the Champions League as a competition that, in its present form, can only basically be won by English, Italian or Spanish clubs, a decade or so ago European football was still semi-pure, and teams from countries like France and Germany could still harbour hopes of lifting the prestigious cup.
One of these teams was Ligue 1 champions Monaco, who arrived in Turin with a wonderfully-talented young team. Having eliminated Manchester United in the quarter final thanks to a David Trezeguet screamer, their squad included another future Juventino in Thierry Henry (who could not play in the first leg), as well as current Bayern Munich man Willy Sagnol, Nigerian livewire Vikor Ipkeba, Scottish legend John Collins, as well as the eccentric goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, who that summer would win the World Cup with France.
Juventus, on the other hand, were in one of the best periods of their history, and were undoubtedly the best team in Europe. Coached by the great Marcello Lippi, they were on their way to a third Scudetto in four years, and had appeared in two successive Champions League finals, defeating Ajax on penalties in 1996, before losing unluckily 3-1 to Borussia Dortmund the following year. Lippi's side were setting a record for consecutive European appearances, having played 43 matches without missing a single round since the start of their UEFA Cup campaign in 1994-95, when they lost in the final to Parma.
The Juve team included Italy No.1 Angelo Peruzzi, Uruguayan defensive hardman Paolo Montero, the brilliant midfield triangle of Didier Deschamps, Edgar Davids and Zinedine Zidane, and the all-Italian strike pairing of Pippo Inzaghi and Del Piero. They came into the game having thrashed Dinamo Kiev 5-2 on aggregate in the quarter finals.
The match lived up to its billing in the first half, as both sides pushed men forward and attacked, but it was Juve who broke the deadlock on 33 minutes in breathtaking fashion. Zidane was fouled by Martin Djetou 30 yards from goal, and Del Piero stepped up to curl a magnificent free kick, probably the most famous set-piece of his career, into Barthez’ top right-hand corner.
Many expected Juventus to double their lead, but on the stroke of half-time Monaco grabbed an equaliser. A corner from the right was not adequately cleared, and Portuguese substitute Francisco Da Costa, with the aid of a deflection, fired past Peruzzi to make it 1-1.
The first half action was still not finished though, and in an incredible climax, Juventus launched an immediate attack from the kick-off. Inzaghi sent Zidane clear, and the French international was pulled down by Barthez. Del Piero smashed the resulting penalty high into the net with the last kick of the half.
Juventus took charge after the break, playing some wonderful football, and they won their second penalty of the night when Philippe Christanval tripped Inzaghi. Del Piero made no mistake from the spot to complete a set-piece hat-trick and take his tally in the season's competition to nine.
Having also scored twice in the 4-1 thrashing of Milan at the weekend, Del Piero had now hit five goals in his last two games, and former Juventus hero, and current UEFA President, Michel Platini, who was in Turin to watch the game, stood up to salute the Italian.
Juventus continued to come forward looking for a fourth goal, and they found it in the closing minutes, as the 23 year-old Del Piero turned provider, receiving a pass from Zidane, and teeing up the Frenchman, who swept the ball past Barthez from 20 yards to score Juventus's 500th goal in European competitions.
Monaco now needed a miracle to prevent a semi-final exit. Thierry Henry, Robert Spehar and an Antonio Conte own goal made things interesting in Monte Carlo, but goals from Nicola Amoruso, and Del Piero again ensured that, although Monaco won 3-2 on the night, Juve progressed 6-4 on aggregate.
Juventus would meet Real Madrid in Amsterdam in a third successive Champions League final (and a fourth consecutive European final), but once again they would come out as losers, as Predrag Mijatovic grabbed a second half winner for Los Blancos.
JUVENTUS: Peruzzi; Torricelli (Conte 57), Iuliano, Montero, Pessotto (Birindelli 5), Di Livio (Tacchinardi 65), Deschamps, Zidane, Davids, Inzaghi, Del Piero.
MONACO: Barthez; Sagnol, Konjic, Christanval, Martin, Diawara, Djetou, Pignol (Da Costa 40), Benarbia (Charnot 73), Trezeguet, Ikpeba.
Referee: Nikolai Levnikov, Russia.