Another sensational set-piece from midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo takes the Bianconeri through to the Europa League quarter-finals with tonight’s 2-1 aggregate triumph over Fiorentina in Florence
Another sensational moment of genius from Andrea Pirlo proved the winning ticket for the second time in five days as the Bianconeri booked their place in the Europa League quarter-finals with this evening’s 1-0 (2-1 aggregate) triumph over Fiorentina at the Artemio Franchi.
In need of a goal after Mario Gomez’s late equaliser in last Thursday’s first leg at Juventus Stadium, Antonio Conte’s men found their saviour in Pirlo who followed up his weekend winner against Genoa with another gem of a free-kick to break Viola hearts on 71 minutes.
Down to 10 men following Gonzalo Rodriguez's sending off, Fiorentina attempted to muster a fightback but if anything it was Conte’s charges who looked the most likely to extend their lead, Fernando Llorente and Arturo Vidal both missing chances in the closing stages.
It was the hosts who took the initiative in a fast-paced introduction at the Artemio Franchi. Gomez went close with just two minutes on the clock, turning outside Leonardo Bonucci before dragging a left-footed shot fractionally wide of Gigi Buffon’s near post.
The balance soon swung back in the Bianconeri’s favour as, led by a spirited Carlos Tevez, they began to gain increasing territory and stand toe-to-toe with the hosts in a combative midfield battle.
Needing to convert their improved play into a crucial away goal, Juventus continued to move forward and could have gone ahead when Mauricio Isla’s inch-perfect cross picked out the head of Pogba, only for the midfielder to be pulled up for offside when stooping to meet the Chilean’s inviting delivery on 24 minutes.
Four minutes later, Isla’s international team-mate David Pizarro had Bianconeri hearts fluttering when, against the run of play, he latched on to a loose ball that fell kindly into his path before unleashing a 25-yard strike which beat both Buffon and, thankfully for Conte’s men, the far post.
Shots from Tevez and Pogba, both placed centrally and comfortably gathered by Neto, were then followed by an ambitious volleyed effort from the Argentine which cleared the crossbar by some distance.
Again, Juventus had to remain alert when Josip Ilicic burst through from deep and blasted over, yet Tevez responded swiftly with an attempt of his own which stung the fingertips of Neto without ever requiring the goalkeeper to move from his central position.
A new half failed to bring about a change in momentum, with both teams once again embroiled in a physical affair right from the word go.
The more promising initial chances fell in the favour of the hosts, who saw Borja Valero’s free-kick and Juan Cuadrado’s long-range thunderbolt foiled by Buffon, but it was Vidal who will feel he should have done better after heading Isla’s inch-perfect cross over the bar from point-blank range just shy of the hour mark.
As the half wore on, Juventus committed further bodies forward and their increased pressure forced Gonzalo Rodriguez into a cynical foul on Fernando Llorente, prompting Webb to show the defender his second yellow card on 70 minutes.
Up stepped Pirlo, who followed up Sunday’s heroics in Genoa with yet another majestic free-kick into the top corner to send the Bianconeri visiting supporters into raptures.
Moments later, Llorente could have made it two when substitute Stephan Lichtsteiner’s cross picked him out in space, only for Neto to deny the Spaniard with a stunning stop from point-blank range.
As Fiorentina pressed frantically to salvage their dwindling European hopes, Vidal had an opportunity to put the final outcome beyond any doubt but directed his header wide of the mark when seemingly odds on to score.
Following four minutes of added time in Florence, Webb’s final whistle sparked scenes of joy among the Bianconeri faithful who will wake up tomorrow morning eager to find out which side will form the next hurdle to overcome in their Europa League journey home to Juventus Stadium.