Juventus arrived at Bayern Munich smiling and left looking downcast after being outclassed by the Bavarians in their Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday.
Coach Antonio Conte, who has inspired an impressive revival at the club, could do little but admit that his side had been second best after a 2-0 defeat left them with a huge task in the return in Turin next Wednesday.
Before the match, Conte had promised that Juventus would enter the fray with smiles on their faces and no fear in their biggest test of his nearly two seasons in charge.
The smiles were missing, however, and there appeared to be quite a lot of fear as Bayern, enjoying a spectacular season at home including a nine-goal mauling of Hamburg SV last Saturday, tore them apart in the first half.
Although it was strange to hear the coach of such a big, successful club taking on the role of underdogs, Conte was merely adapting to a new reality.
Juve's performance appeared to be further confirmation that Italy's financially-troubled teams are no longer able to compete with Europe's best after Udinese fell in the final qualifying round and AC Milan were dispatched 4-0 by Barcelona in the last 16.
Although twice European and 28-times Italian champions Juventus are the only Serie A club to own their stadium and are on a more solid financial footing than the others, even they cannot to afford to splurge cash in the same way as Europe's richest clubs.
"Bayern are among the favourites for the trophy and in my view were very fired up after losing the final last season on home turf," Conte told reporters.
"That defeat has obviously had a great effect on them and they are determined to make up for it.
"We have to be honest and hold our hands up when we come up against opponents who are much stronger than we are. Bayern are the best team we have faced this season.
"We are only now returning to play at this level and this tells us how far away we are from the top teams in Europe," he added, repeating his pre-match comments.
Juventus, back in the quarter-finals after a seven-year gap during which they were stripped of two domestic titles over match-fixing, have been dominant in Serie A under Conte, winning the title unbeaten last year and going nine points clear at the top this term.
They had not, however, encountered anything quite like Bayern, who have hammered in 78 goals in 27 Bundesliga matches this season.
Juventus appeared simply unprepared for Bayern's high-tempo pressing in midfield and repeatedly lost possession in dangerous positions, leaving them brutally exposed to Bayern wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.
"We prepared for the game the normal way but Bayern were extremely physical," added Conte, who appeared shell-shocked on the touchline during the first half.
"We have become competitive again in Italy but need to keep working in order to improve on a continental level too. Our journey started 16 months ago and just to be involved in a game like this makes us proud."comments