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Juventus comeback complete after fixing downfall

A giant logo of Juventus Turin is placed in front of the supporters stand at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, Germany, Friday, June 5, 2015, one day before the soccer Champions League final between Juventus Turin and FC Barcelona. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN (AP) — Less than 10 years ago, Juventus was battling for survival in the second division, tainted by an Italian football scandal. The comeback has been spectacular and could be crowned by the biggest prize in club competitions when Juve tackles Barcelona in the Champions League final on Saturday.

Juventus is back in the final for the first time since 2003, having completed a domestic double by winning the Italian championship and the national cup competition.

The Italian team is also playing its first Champions League final since being demoted to Italy’s second-tier competition in the wake of the “Calciopoli” match-fixing scandal in 2006.

After being revealed to have influenced referees’ decisions, Juventus was stripped of its 2005 and 2006 Serie A titles and relegated from the topflight.

Veteran Gianluigi Buffon, still keeping goal for Juventus today, returned home in 2006 after winning the World Cup with Italy at the Berlin Olympic stadium — the venue of Saturday’s final — to play in the second division with Juventus. Alessandro Del Piero, another star of the time, also stood by his team and Juventus was back in the top flight after one season.

The reputation of the northern Italian team has gradually been restored, with the club winning the last four Italian tiles. It now has a shot at lifting the European Cup for the first time since 1996. The arrival of midfield strategist Andrea Pirlo from AC Milan in 2011 coincides with the latest successes.

Juventus was perceived by many as the weakest of the four semifinal teams this season, but progressed thanks to a 3-2 aggregate victory over Real Madrid — which won a record 10th European Cup crown last year.

“We have had an incredible season, almost never to be repeated,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “It will be a season which goes down in history as it’s rare for a team to challenge on all three fronts right to the end. Now there’s one more final left and we have to be good to bring it home. And also lucky.

“It’s extraordinary to have got there, now let’s see if we can make this season even more extraordinary.”

Juventus was founded in 1897 and has been controlled by the Agnelli family, of Fiat fame, since 1923. It has won 31 national league titles and 10 Italian Cup trophies, and has won the top club competition twice.

The first European trophy came in 1985, but instead of celebration that match ended in tragedy.

Fan violence left 39 people dead, most of them Juventus fans. The final went on and Michel Platini, now UEFA president, scored from a penalty to give Juventus a 1-0 win over Liverpool.

In 1996, Juventus won the final again on penalties, 4-2 over Ajax. In 2003, Juventus lost to Italian rival Milan, also on penalties.

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