Higuain, Rugani strike as Juve secure top spot
TURIN: Gonzalo Higuain hit a slick, secondhalf winner and Daniele Rugani added a late second as dominant Juventus laboured to a 20 Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb that secured top spot in Group H yesterday. With qualification for the last 16 already secure, Juventus welcomed the Croats looking for a repeat of their 4-0 romp in Zagreb in a bid to beat Sevilla to first place in Group H.
The Italian champions had fans on their toes throughout a one-sided encounter in chilly Turin, but largely flattered to deceive before Higuain broke the deadlock with a clinical strike seven minutes after the restart.
It gave Juve a spur, and when Rugani was left alone at a corner he rose above the Dinamo defence to beat Dominik Livakovic down low.
Juve’s fourth win in the campaign left the Italians, beaten finalists in 2015, on 14 points, three ahead of Sevilla after their scoreless draw in Lyon. Juventus have been ravaged by injury, the loss of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini leaving the hosts shorn of their feared ‘BBC’ defence.
Days before the city derby against Torino on Sunday, coach Massimiliano Allegri added spice when he decided to rest Gianluigi Buffon for Norbert Neto.
Juventus were flying from kick-off, Mario Mandzukic setting up Miralem Pjanic with a deft flick from a long ball in midfield.
The Bosnian found Higuain to his right but despite forcing Livakovic down low, the Argentine’s drive was blocked. It was an early warning, but Juve were wasteful throughout the remainder of the first half.
Neto was forced into action soon after, the Brazilian reacting well to a snap header from close range, but had little to do for the remainder. From then on, Juve dominated in all departments, the pace of Juan Cuadrado and creativity of Pjanic proving all too much for Ivaylo Petev’s side. When Mandzukic rose at the edge of the box to meet a superb Cuadrado cross, the Croat was only thwarted by Leonardo Sigali’s timely intervention.
Sigali came to the rescue on the half hour with a precious toe poke for Livakovic as Higuain threatened. Livakovic then got down low to collect Pjanic’s downward header from Mandzukic’s pinpoin delivery, and minutes later had full-back Gordon Schildenfeld to thank for clearing a loose ball yards from goal as Higuain hovered.
A Pjanic free kick from 35 yards forced Livakovic to parry down low and moments later Higuain was out of position when Livakovic spilled Mandzukic’s angled drive from the right.
Juve resumed in positive fashion but Higuain was wasteful after Mandzukic rose to head a floated ball in the Argentine’s direction. Higuain made amends moments later when Mario Lemina’s fancy footwork left the Dinamo defence in tatters before the ball fell kindly for the Argentine to sweep past Livakovic and into the top corner. Again, Juventus got stagefright when it came to adding to their tally. Despite Higuain standing in acres of space on the left flank, Pjanic opted to send Cuadrado through on the right in a move that ultimately broke down.
Pjanic was in the thick of it again with a great cross in for Mandzukic but before he could tap home Livakovic came bravely out to smother, requiring treatment for his trouble after clashing with the Croat.
Another counter led by Cuadrado came to nothing, despite both Pjanic and Higuain calling for service from the Colombian, who was dispossessed as he tried to dribble his way into the area. Redemption came in the 73rd minute when Rugani rose to send a bullet header past Livakovic down low.
Juve striker Paulo Dybala made his return from a six-week injury lay-of when he replaced Dybala for the last 10 minutes. But despite three shots towards goal, the Argentine was to be denied a fairytale return to action.