TURIN, Italy — Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo insists his project in Turin is still in its early days and will continue despite his side crashing out of the UEFA Champions League at the last-16 stage on away goals against 10-man Porto on Tuesday.
Juventus won 3-2 after extra-time on the night, but they were knocked out of the Champions League at the same stage as last season after a 4-4 aggregate draw. That was despite playing against 10 men for much of the game after Porto’s Mehdi Taremi was sent off in the 54th minute.
Their failure to reach the quarterfinals was remarkably similar to last season’s away-goals exit to Lyon, with manager Maurizio Sarri sacked at the end of the campaign despite winning a ninth straight Serie A title for Juve.
For all their domestic dominance, Juve have won just two European Cups compared with Italian rivals AC Milan‘s seven.
Champions League glory is what the club craves, but Pirlo is adamant his journey as coach is just beginning.
“I don’t know if Sarri was sacked for being eliminated from the Champions League,” Pirlo told Sky Sport Italia.
“I am the Juventus manager at the moment and I will work for a larger project, which goes beyond this season.
“This season is only the beginning of this project. We have young players who are growing game after game. The young players have played with desire and self-denial. We cannot say anything to them, they have given their all.”
After falling behind in the first half to a Sergio Oliveira strike, a double from Federico Chiesa, either side of Taremi’s dismissal, seemed to set Juve on their way to victory but they could not find a crucial third goal, leaving the sides all square after normal time.
Pirlo’s side continued to press in extra-time, but one free-kick, through the wall, from Oliveira condemned Juve to their fate, despite Adrien Rabiot scoring a third for the Italian side soon after.
The blow leaves Juve just Serie A glory to play for — and they trail leaders Internazionale by 10 points.
“I’m not happy to have to work with full weeks without European games, I preferred to go on in the Champions League,” Pirlo said.
“To forget this elimination will take a few days but then we will have to look forward and try to move up the [Serie A] rankings.
“We are still in March.”