Vincenzo Grifo beamed and joked with the journalists as he entered the press conference room at the handsome Juventus Stadium.
For the Pforzheim-born Italian national soccer player, the duel with Juventus Turin in the round of 16 of the Europa League is the emotional highlight of his club career to date. Large parts of his family and relatives stick with the Italian record champions, but according to Grifo they keep their fingers crossed for him and his SC Freiburg in the first leg in Piedmont on Thursday (9 p.m. / RTL).
For Baden it is the biggest performance on the international stage so far, the next highlight after the DFB Cup final against RB Leipzig in the previous season - lost on penalties - and another symbol of their rapid rise.
Freiburg wants to stand up to Juve
The fact that his team was allowed to play in Turin for a competitive game and not for the season opener, and that he was also allowed to be there, that was "madness," said coach Christian Streich. You didn't come to admire the Juve stars, but to stand up to them, stressed Grifo. "The club has worked hard for this highlight," said ex-president Fritz Keller, who of course won't miss the trip to northern Italy.
The whole SC is downright electrified. 2100 fans secured tickets from the away contingent for the first leg. Several others quickly became Juve members and got tickets this way, which have since been canceled - also to Streich's regret. The people of Turin expect a sold-out arena.
The board members Oliver Leki and Jochen Saier as well as sports director Klemens Hartenbach have secured their seats in the stadium - and new contracts in their pockets. Appropriately, exactly in the days before the game of games, the SC announced the extension of the trio, which, with trainer Streich, had the largest share in the sporting and economic upswing in recent years. The last descent is now almost eight years ago. Currently, the SC, fifth in the Bundesliga, has a good chance of taking part in the European Cup for the second time in a row. While they failed in the group stage in 2013/2014 and even in the qualification for the Europa League in 2017/2018, this time Freiburg stormed straight into the round of 16 with 14 out of a possible 18 points.
"Over the years we have succeeded in expanding our own DNA with many talents," said ex-President Keller, not without pride in the development of the SC, in which he himself was involved. "But the new stadium is also a very decisive factor. Players usually go where they see that people are thinking ahead. SC must keep that." National player Matthias Ginter, who returned to Breisgau from Borussia Mönchengladbach last summer, is the best example of this. And one of the reasons why Keller believes Freiburg are capable of a surprise against Juve.
It's not going to be quiet for the old lady
Juve - the name still stands for European football nobility, for big titles, an illustrious history - but also for scandals. Almost 17 years after the forced relegation due to referee bribery, the Turiners were recently deducted 15 points in Serie A because the club is said to have tricked its finances for years. The public prosecutor's office and the European association UEFA are also investigating. A "financial monster" ex-Freiburg boss Keller called the Bianchoneri. Your big name has been clouded by the antics of the past few years, but of course it is still sonorous, he explained.
The 36-time Italian champions are no longer as strong as they once were. In the Champions League, in which the team of coach Massimiliano Allegri got stuck in the preliminary round this season, it should now go through the Europa League after the point deduction in the league. After the 1-0 defeat at AS Roma on Sunday, the first after six wins and a draw in seven competitive games, the Turin team are looking to make amends. The SC should be a short stage on the way to the title.
Freiburg's prank is a "great coach" and "deserves everything that's happening right now," said Filip Kostic, who switched from Eintracht Frankfurt to Juve in the summer. But the Serb also emphasized: "We have the quality to win the Europa League and that is our goal." The highly motivated Grifo and his friends from Freiburg have something against it.