- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

There was a time when a soccer player was ready to hang up his cleats when he reached age 30.

Those days clearly are over. Players now continue to shine into their mid-30s and beyond, especially Italian players. Take the case of Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero, whose amazing career keeps rolling along at 34.

The Juventus striker is coming off another impressive season, and his love of playing shows no sign of waning. Del Piero is leading his club into the Peace Cup in Spain, hoping to add more medals to a bulging trophy cabinet that already includes five league titles, a UEFA Champions League title and a World Cup medal.

Del Piero’s 18-year career began when he signed with Padova, but he is best known as one of greatest players in the history of Juventus, where he has spent the past 16 seasons. The versatile striker holds the all-time scoring record for the Turin club with 188 goals in 423 league games and 262 goals in all competitions.

Real Madrid’s two new strikers, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, dominated the buildup to the Peace Cup, but Del Piero is one of the tournament’s major stars. This month, he signed a two-year contract extension that will keep him at Juventus till June 2011, when he said he will retire.

Juventus kicked off its Peace Cup campaign Friday with a 2-1 win against host club Sevilla FC in Group A. Next up for Juventus is a match Sunday against seven-time South Korean champion Seongnam in Seville in the three-team group. The winner advances to the semifinal July 31.

Juventus is using the Peace Cup to prepare for the new season in Italy and the lucrative Champions League. The club finished as the runner-up in Italy last season behind Inter Milan, but its Champion League hopes died when it was eliminated by Premier League club Chelsea in the second round.

Del Piero once again had a productive season, scoring 21 goals in 43 games in all competitions. One highlight: the two goals he had against Real Madrid at the famed Bernabeu venue to help his club reach the final 16 in the Champions League. In doing so, he became the first Juventus player to score two goals at the famed Madrid fortress and in doing so led his team to its first win there in 46 years.

Del Piero is a creative attacking player who sets up as many goals as he scores. He always will be remembered for coming on as a late substitute for Italy and scoring the second goal in a 2-0 victory against host Germany in the 2006 World Cup semifinals. In the final against France, he scored one of the penalty kicks in the shootout to win the title and fulfill his childhood dream.

If the Peace Cup script goes according to plan, Juventus should meet Real Madrid in the semifinal in Seville on July 31.

The Peace Cup is a 12-team tournament that, after three events in South Korea since 2003, has moved to Spain. The winner earns a prize of $2 million, the biggest purse of any preseason event in Europe. The tournament is sponsored by the Sunmoon Peace Football Foundation, a corporate sister of The Washington Times.

Note - Juventus will face American striker Jozy Altidore when it plays Villarreal on Aug. 7 in a friendly. Altidore shone at the recent Confederations Cup in South Africa, helping the team beat Spain and reach the final against Brazil. The Italian season kicks off Aug. 22.

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