American soccer fans stationed in Italy beware: It’s now a little harder to talk trash to your Italian co-workers.

A nation bemoaning its soccer prowess — especially after higher finishes by teams such as the United States at the 2002 World Cup — is suddenly near the top of the soccer world again.

Two Italian clubs — Juventus of Turin and AC Milan — will play for the right to call themselves the top team in Europe.

Juve, which has one of the richest traditions in Italian soccer and fans throughout the country, defeated Real Madrid of Spain 3-1 Wednesday night. AC Milan had tied city rival Inter Milan 1-1 on Tuesday night to advance via a tie-breaking formula.

The matchup, scheduled for May 28 in Manchester, England, will be the first time that two Italian teams have met in the championship game of the Champions League competition.

“Italy can’t lose,” said Paolo Tarchi, an Italian national who works at the public affairs office at Aviano Air Base. “In fact, we already consider it the 10th [European] championship won.”

But it’s been a long drought. Juve was the last Italian team to win in 1996. And no Italian club has reached the final game since Juve lost to Real Madrid in 1998.

Italy’s fortunes in the tournament, which includes the top four teams from national leagues around the continent, had been even worse recently. In fact, no Italian team had reached the quarterfinals the past two years.

That changed this year when three teams reached the semifinals.

Juventus, which recently clinched the Serie A (Italian league) championship, lost 2-1 in Spain last week in the first leg against Real Madrid. So it needed a victory Wednesday in Turin over Real to advance.

Loyalties are divided in Milan, but not on whether the game had any signifance, according to Thomas Skipper, a spokesman for the U.S. Consulate there.

“It’s been crazy all week,” he said. “People were lining up at the crack of dawn to get the last tickets.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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