Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini insists his thundering challenge welcoming Harry Kane to international football in 2015 was not deliberate but admits he knew even then he was up against a future star.
Kane was only two minutes into his full England debut during a friendly with Italy three years ago, when Chiellini made his introduction by crashing into his opposite number.
The pair will resume rivalries again at the Allianz Stadium on Tuesday as Spurs take on two-time European champions Juventus in the Champions League last 16.
Since that first meeting, Chiellini has established himself as one of the most dependable centre-halves in Europe while there is not one out-and-out striker more feared right now than Kane.
Chiellini claims there was nothing planned about his shuddering first impression on the then 24-year-old.
“I don’t actually remember it very well but in Turin he was certainly a great striker. I didn’t make that tackle on purpose!” Chiellini said with a smile.
“But in my opinion he was already then one of the best strikers. People had already talked about him a lot.
“This type of challenge for us as defenders give us an impetus to play football. These are the matches that we will keep in mind in the future.
“I know I judged him properly before because I considered him a great striker then and he has become a great international striker.”
Chiellini is at the heart of a four-man Juventus back-line that boasts the astonishing record of just one goal conceded in 16 matches.
But it is Kane, with eight goals in his last seven games and 36 in 37 overall this season, that was the talk of the Italian club’s pre-match press conference on Monday.
“Stopping one-on-one against Kane, just me alone, is pretty impossible,” Chiellini said.
Kane remembered well his match-up with Chiellini for England. He admitted getting past the 33-year-old and, more importantly, Gianluigi Buffon in goal promises to be one of the toughest tests of his career.
“He’s an amazing defender,” Kane said. “On my first start for England, in the first five minutes he made a challenge and I had a dead leg for about five minutes.
“It was a good welcome to international football. We know how good their defence is as a whole and obviously their goalkeeper as well.”
Toby Alderweireld will miss the match, having only recently recovered from a hamstring tear.
Alderweireld played 90 minutes against Newport in the FA Cup last week and declared after the match he felt “very good” but was not included in the squad against Arsenal on Saturday and did not join Monday’s travelling party to Italy either.
“He is 28 and it was a massive injury that we need to take care and be cautious with because we cannot put his career at risk,” Mauricio Pochettino said.
“To play this type of game you need to be 200 per cent. Competing is not the same as training and that’s why we are caring about him with our plan.”
As the Champions League makes its return on Tuesday evening, put your knowledge of the competition to the test with our special quiz.
Can you name all of the winners since the competition – formerly known as the European Cup – became the UEFA Champions League? 13 different clubs have got their hands on the trophy since 1993, but will you be able to get all of them?
With the group stages over, the Champions League reaches the business end with the last-16 round knockout stages. The draw saw some intriguing ties thrown up and Juventus‘ clash with Tottenham is certainly one of those.
It will be the first meeting of the two sides in a UEFA club competition and the first time the two nations have gone head-to-head since Juve’s clash against Manchester City in 2015/16.
Ahead of Tuesday’s first-leg tie, we look at four classic displays from English sides in Italy.
JUVENTUS 2-3 MANCHESTER UNITED, April 21, 1999
One of the most remarkable comebacks in European football for Manchester United. The Red Devils had a stern task ahead of them against a formidable Juve side who were bidding to reach the showpiece final for the fourth consecutive year.
When Filippo Inzaghi netted twice in the first 11 minutes, it was a long way back for United. But captain Roy Keane’s header gave them hope before Dwight Yorke saw them ahead on away goals. There was relentless pressure from the hosts but Andy Cole sealed the win on a memorable night for United.
INTERNAZIONALE 1-5 ARSENAL, November 25, 2003
The Gunners travelled to Milan knowing victory was a must if they wanted to progress to the knockout stages. A 3-0 home defeat to Internazionale in the first fixture in London hadn’t exactly inspired confidence going into the game, but fans at the San Siro were shocked as Arsenal dismantled the hosts.
Thierry Henry tormented Inter’s defence with his pace and was rewarded with the opening goal. Christian Vieri equalised but that was as good as it got for the hosts as Arsenal then took charge.
Freddie Ljungberg, another Henry strike, Edu and Robert Pires all got themselves on the scoresheet and completed a remarkable result for Arsene Wenger for them to advance to the knockouts.
AC MILAN 2-3 MANCHESTER UNITED, February 16, 2010
All eyes were on David Beckham as he faced his old club in the last-16 round, first-leg tie, but it was the Red Devils who spoilt the party with a deserved victory at San Siro.
Ronaldinho gave the hosts an early lead after a bright opening from Milan. When Paul Scholes levelled the scores, United gradually improved and took the lead thanks to a brace from Wayne Rooney – his 24th and 25th goals of the season.
Clarence Seedorf reduced the deficit late on and despite Michael Carrick’s stoppage time red card, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side secured a vital first-leg lead, extending their unbeaten away run in Europe to a record 16 matches. They would cruise into the quarter-finals courtesy of a 4-0 hammering in the second leg at Old Trafford.
INTERNAZIONALE 4-3 TOTTENHAM, October 20, 2010
The Italian side showed why there were defending champions by outclassing Spurs at the San Siro, but what a game this was and the launchpad for Gareth Bale’s career.
By the time the half-time whistle was blown the match was all but over with Javier Zanetti, Samuel Eto’o (twice) and Dejan Stankovic scoring to hold a 4-0 lead and leave a Spurs side lacking experience on the big European stage staring down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat.
It appeared things were only going to get worse in the second half for the visitors with goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes sent off, but Spurs gave it a real go. Welsh wonderkid Bale showed glimpses of his potential and his searing pace by surging down the left to score two identical goals before completing his hat-trick deep into stoppage time.