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Last Updated: Monday, 26 May, 2003, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Alessandro the Great
By Nada Grkinic

ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO
Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero
Major honours: Five Serie A titles, one Champions League final winners' medal
Alessandro Del Piero will lead Juventus out against AC Milan at the self-styled Theatre of Dreams on Wednesday.

And for once, the unassuming striker will be ready to emerge from the wings to take centre stage in what promises to be an intriguing Champions League final at Old Trafford.

So often in the shadow of his more illustrious cast members - Roberto Baggio, Zinedine Zidane and now Pavel Nedved - Del Piero has been happy to play a supporting role.

But with influential playmaker Nedved suspended - and the occasion will be poorer for his absence - Del Piero will be the main protagonist of the all-Italian drama.

The 28-year-old is in fine form having put his recent injury problems behind him, and he has just lifted the scudetto for the second consecutive season.

The Italian's performance in Juventus' demolition of Real Madrid in the semi-finals reminded many of his mercurial talent.

Del Piero emerged as an exciting prospect in the early 1990s when he signed for Juventus, who then boasted the tantalising attacking triumvirate of Baggio, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Gianluca Vialli.

Baggio was off-loaded in 1995, at the end of Del Piero's second season at the Stadio Delle Alpi, and the apprentice was handed the famous number 10 jersey.

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Del Piero responded in kind, helping Juventus to three successive European Cup finals between 1996-1998. He picked up one winners' medal in 1996 when the bianconeri beat Ajax 4-2 on penalties.

But then disaster struck when Del Piero suffered a cruciate knee injury in the 1998-99 season and despite surgery to repair the problem, the striker struggled to reach the same heights.

Worse was to come for Del Piero, who was blamed for Italy's failure to win Euro 2000 after they led France 1-0 in the final with only minutes to go.

His predatory instincts deserted him as he squandered two glorious opportunities before France snatched victory with a David Trezeguet golden goal.

Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero and manager Marcelo Lippi
Del Piero has suffered the highs and lows of the European Cup

National team redemption came at last year's World Cup when he scored the equaliser against Mexico that ensured the Azzurri a place in the last 16.

And although the road to recovery has been slow, it has been worth the wait.

"He's the hub of our wheel," said Juventus coach Marcello Lippi. "Every year he takes on more and more responsibility and now he has fully matured.

"I didn't know that it was in his nature to be this way, but he has grown into the role.

"He is looking more comfortable and he's back at the level he was at in 1996. Actually, I think he is even better. He was always unselfish and hard-working, now he is a true leader as well."

Lights, camera, action, the moment has arrived for Del Piero to deliver his finest performance.






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