A last-gasp strike from Leonardo Bonucci at the Stade de Gerland this evening made it advantage Juventus in their two-legged Europa League quarter-final tie with Lyon.
An evenly matched contest for an hour, the game tipped firmly in the Bianconeri’s favour during the final 30 minutes, with Bonucci capitalising on late pressure to gleefully pick up the pieces following a goalmouth scramble.
The win and precious away goal mean Antonio Conte’s men will be considered favourites for a spot in the semi-finals, but the physicality and pace offered by Lyon on the break mean the tie is far from over.
During a bright start for Juventus, Andrea Pirlo had the opportunity to execute a trademark free-kick but was unable to direct his effort beyond the wall, while Carlos Tevez, returning to the starting line-up after missing the Napoli clash through suspension, nodded wide after the ball had broken kindly for him in and around a packed penalty area.
The Bianconeri’s early forages into enemy territory were then tempered by a spell of possession for the hosts, who worked the ball around without ever genuinely threatening to breach a well-marshalled penalty area.
A cagey affair eventually came to life on 26 minutes when Corentin Tolisso’s penetrating ball identified Steed Malbranque peeling off his marker. The midfielder tried to catch Gigi Buffon out at his near post with a first-time snap shot, but the goalkeeper, making his 700th club appearance, remained equal to it with a smart stop.
Lyon threatened again just seconds later and Jimmy Briand will perhaps feel he should have done better after lifting the ball into the roof of the net from a promising central position inside the area.
Down the other end, Tevez, partnered for the evening by Dani Osvaldo worked hard in his attempts to get the measure of an imposing centre-back pairing of Bakary Kone and Samuel Umtiti. His persistence almost paid off when he evaded their attentions to go one-on-one with Anthony Lopes on 29 minutes, only to see his effort smothered by some good goalkeeping.
Remi Garde’s men began the second half the brighter of the two sides, putting the Bianconeri under increasing spells of pressure as they kicked towards the most vociferous section of their supporters. A foul on the edge of the area on 52 minutes presented Umtiti with the chance to test Buffon from range, but the goalkeeper watched it all the way and palmed his shot wide for a corner.
Also on his toes was Buffon’s opposite number Lopes, who was forced into a diving save when Pirlo’s inviting delivery into the box clipped off the head of Briand. Minutes later it was Umtiti who came to the rescue, getting across to block after Osvaldo had chested down neatly in the area and released a shot at goal.
That proved to be the Azzurri international’s final contribution as Conte introduced Sebastian Giovinco to partner Mirko Vucinic, who had replaced Tevez earlier on in the second half. The fresh legs fashioned the Bianconeri a spate of chances, with Giovinco, Kwadwo Asamoah and Giorgio Chiellini all going close beyond the hour mark.
With momentum firmly in their favour and increasing pockets of space opening up across the park, Juventus, now with the added thrust of Stephan Lichtsteiner down the right flank, continued their charge towards goal during the final stages.
It seemed a close-range Vucinic strike that drifted over the bar was to be the Bianconeri’s last chance to make their pressure tell, but Bonucci found himself in the right place at the right time to smash the ball home in front of a jubilant band of travelling supporters on a night to remember in France.