Juventus
    02.04.2017 22:53 - in: Match report S

    Honours even in Naples

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    Sami Khedira’s seventh-minute strike is cancelled out by Marek Hamsik’s equaliser on the hour mark in tonight’s 1-1 draw at the San Paolo

    The Bianconeri came away with a point from Sunday night’s Serie A contest after playing out a 1-1 draw against Napoli at the San Paolo.

    Sami Khedira it was to hand Juve an early, seventh-minute lead in some style too following neat link-up play with birthday boy Miralem Pjanic before firing home his fifth goal of the season.

    Napoli, however, took the game to the Bianconeri throughout and earned their equaliser after an hour when Marek Hamsik fired into Gianluigi Buffon’s top corner from close range.

    The result leaves Juve six points clear of second-placed Roma while Napoli remain ten points off the pace in third.

    The Partenopei, as expected, piled on the pressure with some early possession in advanced areas, but Juve held firm and duly did the damage with a perfectly executed counter-attack after scarcely seven minutes.

    Khedira and Pjanic exchanged passes on the edge of the area with the former smashing powerfully past Rafael and into the bottom corner – the perfect start in a match of such magnitude.

    Gonzalo Higuain – playing for the first time in Naples since joining Juve in the summer – showed a great piece of skill on the quarter-hour, turning his marker by the corner flag and sending in a dangerous cross into the box, but Kalidou Koulibaly cleared his lines.

    Keen to get back on level terms quickly, Napoli upped the tempo again and threatened Buffon’s goal a couple of times when Hamsik saw his drive deflected out for a corner before Giorgio Chiellini wheeled back to nod Jose Callejon’s cross over the bar while under pressure from Dries Mertens.

    And the hosts kept up their chase for an equaliser right up until half-time, Hamsik skewing a shot off target before Lorenzo Insigne cut into the box and bent an effort just inches wide of Buffon’s far post.

    Mario Lemina, enjoying a great first Juventus start since early December, injected more energy into the match immediately after the interval when he burst forwards to receive Higuain’s pass and helped himself to a shot that flew a few feet off target.

    Down the other end, Insigne curled wide again before Callejon bundled into the net only to be correctly flagged offside.

    By the 60th minute, however, Napoli were level when Hamsik received Mertens’ ball before slotting coolly into the top corner and, just three minutes later, Mertens very nearly scored his side’s second after dispossessing Buffon and striking the outside of the post from the acutest of angles.

    Ultimately, neither team did quite enough late on to clinch a winner and, on the balance of play, a draw was a fair result here.

    Now attentions turn quickly to Wednesday night’s ‘rematch’ at the San Paolo with a place in the Coppa Italia final at stake.

    The dress rehearsal is over…

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