TURIN, May 10: Dani Alves proved his critics wrong as he inspired Juventus to a 2-1 win over Monaco on Tuesday to send the Italian club to its second Champions League final in three years.
Often described as being past his best when he joined Juventus from Barcelona on a free transfer last June, the 34-year-old Alves was often mocked during the season.
But Alves had a man-of-the-match performance against Monaco, setting up Mario Mandzukic's opener in the 33rd minute before getting on the scoresheet himself on the stroke of halftime with a sensational long-range volley as Juventus swept to a 4-1 victory on aggregate.
"The most important thing is to help my team to win, whether scoring or providing assists," Alves said. "I don't score very often, so I'm happy, but in a way I prefer the assist to a goal, so everyone goes home happy."
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid meet on Wednesday for the other second-leg match, with defending champion Real Madrid leading 3-0. But Alves, who spent eight years at Real's fierce rival Barcelona, insists he has no preference who Juventus meets in the final.
"Playing a final is enough motivation for me," Alves said. "It doesn't change anything for me if it is against Real Madrid, it would be a great match in world football. But Real still has a match to play. It won't be Barcelona against Real Madrid, but Juventus against Real."
There was one man who Alves didn't need to prove anything: Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri.
"Three months ago, some people wanted to strangle Dani Alves," Allegri said with a smile. "But when a player is good, he's good in June, September and the following June... he hasn't turned mediocre.
"Anyways, Alves is not someone we've discovered in the past three months. He's won 29 titles."
Kylian Mbappe scored a consolation goal in the 69th minute for Monaco, as Juventus remained on course for the treble. Allegri's side is likely to secure an unprecedented sixth Serie A title on Sunday at Roma, while it is also in the Italian Cup final.
Two years ago, Juventus was in a similar position but it lost the final 3-1 to Barcelona. This time, it could be Juve's year, especially after it eased past the Catalan team 3-0 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
Juventus will be attempting to end a 21-year wait for a European trophy.
"It's a path that started a long time ago," Allegri said. "Everyone has grown: the club, the players, myself. Have to compliment everyone. From tomorrow we have to think about what we can do in these in 20 days.
"It's right to be enthusiastic, but we'll take it one step at a time. We have to improve certain things, because this squad is capable of improving."
Monaco's young team has earned a lot of admirers this season and coach Leonardo Jardim's task will be to keep his players together, especially with many top clubs following Mbappe. The 18-year-old striker wasn't even born when Buffon made his Serie A debut in 1995.
"We leave here eliminated, but still with our heads held high," Mbappe said. "My goal against Buffon didn't help anything, it's pretty much just anecdotal."
As for Monaco's performances in this season's Champions League, Mbappe saw them as valuable experience.
"We had a good run ... we don't have many regrets about this European campaign," he said. "Mixing with the top teams is what's best for progression. Today we learnt a lot, I learnt a lot and we'll try to come back next season better armed."