Higuain, Ru­gani strike as Juve se­cure top spot

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

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.

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