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16 Mar 2014 - in: Serie A

Pirlo wondergoal extends Juve lead at the top

Andrea Pirlo drives home a sensational free-kick to seal a late victory in this evening’s closely-contested game at the Luigi Ferraris. The midfielder's exploits, plus Gigi Buffon's penalty save, take the Bianconeri 17 points clear of Roma

A last-gasp gem from the right boot of Andrea Pirlo enabled Juventus to emerge with a hard-fought three points on the road against a Genoa side beaten just once in their previous ten games on home soil.

In a feisty encounter offering very little in terms of clear-cut opportunities for either side, it seemed a moment of quality would be required to eventually break the deadlock, with Pirlo providing just that courtesy of a superb 25-yard free-kick which flashed past the despairing dive of Mattia Perin on 89 minutes.

But the Bianconeri will also be thanking Gigi Buffon for a second-half penalty save from Emanuele Calaiò, a crucial moment which provided them with the platform to grind out an important result at a notoriously challenging venue.

Genoa came into the game commanding a strong record at the Marassi and, backed by a vocal following, showed their determination to push the league leaders all the way with heavy periods of pressing during an exuberant opening.

A wayward strike from Giuseppe Sculli on five minutes, though, was all they had to show in the final third during the initial stages as Juventus attempted to get into their stride against aggressive opposition, who saw Sebastien De Maio and Stefano Sturaro deservedly enter Paolo Mazzoleni’s notebook for robust challenges before the midway point of the half.

Having successfully battled their way through a testing introduction to proceedings, Juventus began posing a few questions in the final third. Dani Osvaldo, eying his fourth Serie A strike in as many games against the Rossoblu, saw an effort ruled out for offside, while Fernando Llorente went close to troubling Perin from Pirlo’s teasing free-kick into the area on 26 minutes.

With the clock ticking down towards the break, Antonio Conte’s men upped their attacking intensity and thought they had found a way through when Paul Pogba’s magnificent backheel sent Osvaldo one-on-one with Perin, only for a debatable offside flag to deny the forward his first league goal in the black and white stripes.

The hosts maintained their high-tempo approach during a lively start to the second half and Juventus had to rely on the heroics of Buffon, equalling Dino Zoff’s record of 476 appearances, to deny Andrea Bertolacci from point-blank range with an instinctive block on 56 minutes.

An even better occasion fell in the favour of Gian Piero Gasperini’s men with less than 20 minutes remaining. After Arturo Vidal was adjudged to have handled inside the area, Emanuele Calaiò stepped up but saw an inspired Buffon guess right to push his spot-kick away from danger.

The encounter looked to be edging towards a draw as neither side were able to make their chances count, but Pirlo had other ideas, pouncing to deliver a fatal hammer blow with a moment of magic in the dying embers.

The importance of the result was not lost on Conte and his backroom staff, who made their way on to the pitch to congratulate a jubilant group of players whose never say die spirit means they now stand 17 points clear of closest contenders Roma.