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13 Mar 2014 - in: Europa League

All to play for in Florence

Arturo Vidal’s opener after three minutes is cancelled out by Fiorentina substitute Mario Gomez in the latter stages of this evening’s Europa League last 16 first leg at Juventus Stadium. 1-1 the final score

Goals in either half from Arturo Vidal and Mario Gomez in this evening’s 1-1 draw with Fiorentina mean it’s all to play for when the Bianconeri travel to the Artemio Franchi for next Thursday’s decisive Europa League last 16 return leg.

Featuring five changes from last weekend’s Serie A triumph over the Viola, Juventus went about their task with relish and set the tone for a barnstorming opening period when the Chilean midfielder slammed home his 18th goal of the season after just three minutes.

Further chances to extend their lead came and went during a tightly-contested encounter, with Antonio Conte’s men eventually pegged back in the final stages courtesy of an equaliser from second-half substitute Gomez.

While 42 minutes were required for Kwadwo Asamoah to find a way past a stubborn Fiorentina rearguard in Sunday’s Serie A clash, less than 270 seconds were needed this time around as the league leaders seized control of the tie during a scintillating start.

A neat move from left to right saw Claudio Marchisio work the ball to Sebastian Giovinco, who in turn knocked down for Vidal to lash an unstoppable shot beyond Neto and bring a noisy Juventus Stadium crowd to its feet.  

Visiting boss Vincenzo Montella made a point of insisting his team would be playing for the win during yesterday’s pre-match press conference, and the visitors gradually grew in stature as they attempted to conjure up a response to Vidal’s early hammer blow.  

On 14 minutes, Alberto Aquilani, who spent the 2010/11 season on loan with the Bianconeri, dispatched a first-time volley which was poked just wide by an Alessandro Matri at full stretch, while the sharp reflexes of Gigi Buffon and quick thinking of Kwadwo Asamoah combined to keep Matías Fernández at bay moments later.

It was then Juventus’ turn to ramp up the pressure through two promising chances of their own. While Neto might have been expected to make a routine save from Giovinco’s shot towards his near post, he certainly earned his stripes when he plunged low to prevent Vidal’s purposeful header from crossing the line on 26 minutes.

The Chilean again demonstrated his talent in the air when meeting Andrea Pirlo’s centre from the left-hand side five minutes shy of the break, only to see his attempt clip the top of the bar with Neto stranded.

But the hosts were given another warning sign of Fiorentina’s intentions just ahead of the interval, Borja Valero’s shot from the fringes of the area taking a deflection before spinning fractionally past the far post.

The free-flowing nature of an entertaining first half gave way to a more cagey affair upon the restart, with clear-cut chances few and far between as both sides sized each other up in a delicately poised tactical battle.

In a bid to change his team’s approach in the final third, Conte introduced Fernando Llorente in place of Giovinco on 64 minutes, with Paul Pogba also joining the action at the expense of Dani Osvaldo shortly afterward.

Yet it was another attacking replacement who would have a decisive impact as the clock ticked towards the final ten minutes, Fiorentina frontman Gomez nipping in beyond Angelo Ogbonna to slot past Buffon and draw his team level.

Pogba did have an instant opportunity to restore the Bianconeri’s lead but planted his left-footed attempt just wide of the mark when striding through towards goal.

The hosts had to rely on the agility of Buffon as the encounter drifted into its dying embers, with the goalkeeper making two decent stops from Borja Valero and Juan Vargas to deny Montella’s charges a shock winner.