The challenge is mouth-watering. The anticipation is growing. The favourite? There isn't one. Juventus versus Borussia Dortmund is one of the most eagerly awaited matches of the Champions League and it's not only because the mere thought of it conjures up the familiar scent of nostalgia.
It was 1997 when the perennial German underdogs became winners of the Champions League against what was arguably Europe's best team, Juventus. While Corriere della Sera ran with the headline "Juve -- a night of tears and anger", Sportsmail's Jeff Powell wrote, "Juventus Old Boys beat up the Old Lady herself."
"Beat up" was perhaps hyperbolic but the scenes could never be forgotten. The Old Lady had deployed an array of illustrious talent -- including soon-to-be World Champions Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps -- and dominated the match, yet frustration was the only emotion to be felt as Karl-Heinz Riedle scored two goals in five minutes to shock the Bianconeri and stun onlookers.
The Italian media raged against the injustice witnessed in the Olympiastadion. That same Corriere della Sera piece referred to the event as "an evening without God." Juventus struck the post twice but grew livid with referee Sandor Puhl's decisions that involved disallowing a Christian Vieri goal for what appeared to be an unintentional handball and for refusing to award Marcello Lippi's men two clear penalties.
Among the chaos, Juventus made a fan out of this writer. Alessandro Del Piero's back-heel goal was an audacious moment of brilliance. It quickly became apparent that to not support a side that played with such elegance and appeared harshly penalised was both mystifying and inexcusable. Winners will always be cheered but then there were those who fell in love with the talented losers.
Since then, fortunes have changed and both teams have experienced difficult moments and a return to glory. Juventus are back to dominating Italy with hopes of dominating Europe, while Dortmund, albeit experiencing a difficult season, have secured the role of Germany's second superpower in football.
What makes the tie so interesting is that it's a clash of two teams who rose through the ranks because of a mutual belief in the value of intensity. While there are obvious differences in the philosophy and style of play between the two sides, neither club could have collected so many trophies had it not been for the belief that stamina, relentless running and gut-wrenching determination is, and perhaps always will be, the difference maker.
Fortunate to have visionaries in charge, both Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp put their faith in the power of psychology. They didn't simply construct well-balanced sides with a specific style of play, but emotionally charged a squad and created a unit that sacrificed for one another and believed in the collective, adopting a warrior mentality. Each goal was celebrated with wild abandon, each victory cherished with passion.
"If we don't go at 200mph then we're just an ordinary team," explained Antonio Conte when asked on what made his Juve so special. He wanted them to fight, to sacrifice and to respect themselves and the shirt. Mediocrity was not to be tolerated and with one speech, given in the gym in pre-season, Andrea Pirlo believed. As did the rest of the squad. "This squad, dear lads, is coming off two consecutive seventh-place finishes. It's crazy. Shocking. I am not here for this, so it's time to stop being crap."
As for Klopp, he believed that to push yourself to the limit is to put one hand on the trophy. "I want us to go to the limit every time. There's a saying: a good horse only jumps as high as it needs to. I've put it differently for my team: a really good horse jumps as high as it can. To give everything on the pitch, that's what we train for."
Intensity, passion and intelligence are what define the two teams yet the strategies differ entirely, at least on a superficial level. Juventus are obsessed with possession and always look to control the tempo of the game, relying on Pirlo's geometry and the players' technique and combinations to score. By contrast the Germans boast electric pace and transition with perfection. Masters of gegenpressing, they press ferociously to win back possession and minimise the space for the opponent before inflicting their strengths.
So why the failure domestically? The real question is can we describe Dortmund's domestic performances as woeful or unlucky. Both. Statistics show that on average, Die Schwarzgelben are not as efficient at pressing as they once were, allowing the opponent one more pass than usual. However, barring that statistic, the team are still in good shape and one cannot help but feel for a side that still creates an abundance of chances yet is incapable of converting opportunities.
It hardly helps that expectations are high and confidence is low, turning excellent players into average men on the pitch. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is now referred to as "Missataryan" on account of how incapable he has at scoring -- thanks, Mino Raiola, but Juve don't need him -- while the former king of passes, Nuri Sahin has seen his passing accuracy stats take a tumble.
However, things are picking up and BVB have now accrued three consecutive victories. Klopp is attempting to achieve consistency by forcing his squad to train on a terrible pitch, that way the players maintain their concentration levels. It seems to have worked yet the German side still has a few weakness the Italians can exploit.
Possessing a weak defence that surrenders when pressured, Juventus must play with maximum intensity so that they may overwhelm the opponent with their attacking game. Imprecision and sloppy behaviour will simply not be tolerated and it's time Massimiliano Allegri's men play a mature and intelligent game, keeping the ball and isolating the defenders in hopes of provoking mistakes.
Out of 21 matches Juventus have played at home against German opponents, they have won 14. Can they make it 15 on Tuesday evening?