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Welcome back Juventus

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Stoppage Time Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - "It was like going from hell to heaven."

That is how Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon described his team's journey from Serie B back into Italy's top flight.

However, that same sentiment can also be used to describe the transition from a lackluster, boring campaign in Serie A last season to what promises to be a more exciting, high-quality season this year.

Following the 2005-06 season, in which Juventus finished atop the standings, Italy was rocked by a match-fixing scandal that resulted in Juventus being stripped of its title and relegated to Serie B. Clubs such as AC Milan and Fiorentina were hit with point deductions at the start of the 2006-07 season, and that was the beginning of an easy walk to the title for Inter Milan.

With Roma serving as the only other competitor to Inter as February rolled around, it was never a matter of if, but when the Nerazzuri would clinch the crown.

It was like giving a world-class thoroughbred a 100-yard head start on the rest of the field at the Kentucky Derby.

Gianluigi Buffon
It would be an understatement to say that Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is ecstatic about the team moving up to Serie A.
This season will be different because every team will start on a level playing field, and Inter's competition will be a little stiffer with the return of the club from Turin, Juventus.

Upon its relegation to Serie B, notable players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Fabio Cannavaro departed for other clubs, but players such as Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Pavel Nedved stayed on board.

After fending off teams such as Napoli and Genoa to win Serie B last season, manager Claudio Ranieri was charged with adding enough talent around his existing team to contend for the Serie A championship this year.

To that end, Ranieri brought in Deportivo defender Jorge Andrade, Portuguese international Tiago, Argentine midfielder Sergio Almiron and Italy striker Vincenzo Iaquinta from Udinese.

Ranieri took his team through an unimpressive preseason that included very ordinary and at times poor performances, but what they offered up on the season's opening day was a warning shot to the rest of the league that Juventus is back.

The scoreboard at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino on Saturday night said it all.

Juventus 5, Livorno 1.

Trezeguet scored a hat-trick and the newly-signed Iaquinta added a pair of goals as Juve orchestrated a second-half barrage that included four goals in the game's final 19 minutes.

The win didn't come against a team with Milan in its name, like Inter or AC, Juve's chief title contenders, but it did resonate with fans across Italy, who if they opened up their newspapers this morning would find Juventus on top of the league standings.

It is only one game, but the question has been answered as to whether or not Juve will be able to challenge for the league title right away. Saturday's result offered up a loud and clear "yes" to that question.

Make no mistake, this Juventus team is not quite the machine that rolled to four league titles in five years from 2001-2006, before being stripped of two of them.

While Trezeguet and Del Piero were members of those teams, they are not quite as much in their primes as they once were. The addition of Iaquinta makes this a dangerous strike trio, but none of these players is quite as good as the departed Ibrahimovic.

Tiago did not take part in the game on Saturday because of injury, but he will definitely upgrade what is already a strong midfield. Andrade, meanwhile, will not fully replace the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Cannavaro, but will give the team a sturdy defender that it can rely on.

No, this is not that same powerhouse, but in the interest of Serie A this season, it doesn't really matter.

The opening weekend got off to a good start with AC Milan and Roma also recording impressive wins in their respective season openers.

The Rossoneri got two goals from one of the best players in the world, Kaka, en route to a 3-0 win over Genoa. Meanwhile, Roma looked every bit as good as the team that advanced to the Champions League quarterfinals last season in beating Palermo, 2-0.

Inter was held to a 1-1 draw by Udinese to get their title defense off to a rocky start on Sunday, but they still showed flashes of the dominant team from last season and are sure to begin piling up the points as the season goes on.

The addition of Juventus back into Serie A this season has given us four legitimate teams who can contend for the title, and that sounds like the makings of a divine season.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Pat Martin at pmartin@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com


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