01.05.2014 23:21 - in: Europa League S

    Juve bow out of Europa League with heads held high

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    Juventus battle valiantly to overturn last week’s 2-1 deficit in Lisbon but Benfica hold on to clinch their second Europa League final appearance in as many years

    The Bianconeri saw their Europa League adventure come to an end after tonight’s goalless draw at Juventus Stadium confirmed Benfica’s place in this year’s final.

    Antonio Conte’s men gave it absolutely everything they had to overturn last week’s slender 2-1 defeat in Lisbon, striking 19 times on goal across the 90 minutes, but were ultimately left to rue their luck as the visitors, down to ten men since the midway point of the second half, hung on for their lives to set up their second final appearance in as many years.

    Benfica began in the ascendency but were soon pinned back by a Bianconeri side spurred on by an electrifying sell-out crowd. Andrea Pirlo had the first noteworthy effort on goal with eight minutes played, launching a missile from the edge of the area which was helped over the top by Jan Oblak.

    Once the encounter had settled down following some early frantic exchanges, Juventus continued to take the game to their visitors, using the flanks in particular as legitimate sources of attack.

    It was a cross from a wide area that produced their next chance on 20 minutes, Arturo Vidal finding the roof of the net after connecting with Pirlo’s delivery towards the back post.

    Moments later, Carlos Tevez, once again partnered in attack by Fernando Llorente, showed just how strong their understanding has become when he made a clean connection with the Spaniard’s knockdown in the area, only to see his volley on the turn rise over the bar.

    The Bianconeri kept their finger on the pulse throughout a lively first half, with Stephan Lichtsteiner, Vidal and Leonardo Bonucci all trying their luck with half-chances that failed to seriously trouble Oblak in the Eagles’ goal.

    Conte’s men did, however, find a way past the young Slovenian shotstopper on the stroke of half-time, only for Luisao to scramble back and make a last-ditch intervention by clearing Vidal’s header off the line.

    Greeted by driving rain on their return from the break, Juventus maintained their attacking approach but were let off the hook on 50 minutes when Rodrigo wastefully lashed over the bar from an excellent position inside the area.

    Committing further bodies forward as the game edged towards the final half an hour, the hosts continued to work themselves some decent openings. The first of these presented itself to the feet of Pirlo, who saw his venomous direct free-kick beaten away by the fists of Oblak.

    The dismissal of Enzo Perez midway through the second half for two yellow cards helped increase the one-way flow of traffic, with Benfica subjected to a siege of black and white shirts attacking their penalty area.  

    Tevez, making his 50th appearance in UEFA competitions, looked particularly bright and sought to take matters into his own hands on 70 minutes with a weaving run and shot that was placed directly at Oblak.

    With the fresh legs of Sebastian Giovinco, Claudio Marchisio and Dani Osvaldo offering increased potency in forward areas, Conte’s men went for the jugular and thought their moment had come inside the last 10 minutes when Pogba cut back for Osvaldo in the area, only for the assistant referee to rule the striker’s finish out for offside.

    A fractious finale, in which Mirko Vucinic and Lazar Markovic were given their marching orders from the touchline, saw Juventus bombard their visitors but Mark Clattenburg’s whistle, after six minutes of added time, eventually sealed their fate by confirming Benfica’s place in this year’s Europa League final.

    The Bianconeri, whose valiant efforts were acknowledged by applause from their home faithful, will look to immediately raise their heads and claim the win required to rubber stamp their primary objective of the season - a third consecutive Scudetto - when they host Atalanta on Monday night.  

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