22.12.2014 22:11 - in: Events S

      Juve suffer penalty heartache in Qatar

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      A Carlos Tevez brace is cancelled out by fellow countryman Gonzalo Higuain and Napoli lift the Super Cup after winning 6-5 on penalties

      The heroics of Gigi Buffon were unable to secure the Bianconeri a Super Cup success this evening in Qatar, with a dramatic 6-5 win for Napoli on penalties sending the trophy to Naples following a 2-2 draw after extra time.

      Argentine assassins Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain were both at the double for their respective sides, but it is Buffon who will take the plaudits after following up a strong display during regular time with three saves in the shootout.  

      One hundred and twenty minutes plus spot kicks were required to separate the sides on a night where the Bianconeri let two leads slip through their fingers after edging their noses in front after just four minutes.  

      Miscommunication in the Partenopei defensive ranks enabled Tevez to saunter through one-on-one to open the scoring, before Higuain levelled matters midway through the second half courtesy of a straightforward header.

      Extra time saw Massimiliano Allegri’s men firmly on the front foot and after several near misses, Tevez squeezed the ball home from the edge of the area to send the Juventus supporters behind the goal into ecstasy.

      But there was to be one final cruel twist in the tale as Higuain prodded home his second of the night from point-blank range with two minutes remaining, sending the game to the lottery of penalties from which the Partenopei emerged victorious after 18 spot kicks.

      The night started with a bang for the Bianconeri. A defensive mix up between Partenopei centre-backs Raul Albiol and Kalidou Koulibaly allowed Tevez to sneak through with a clear run on goal, and the Argentine made no mistake, sliding the ball beyond Rafael to give Allegri’s men the goal their early pressing deserved.

      Napoli had little answer to their opponents’ crisp passing and movement in the opening stages but did fashion a chance of their own with their first counter attack on 11 minutes, Marek Hamsik firing over following some decent build-up play on the edge of the area.

      The Slovakian again found himself at the centre of the action five minutes later when a miscued Giorgio Chiellini clearance fell at his feet, prompting a 20-yard strike which cannoned back off Buffon’s left-hand post.

      That let off aside, Juventus continued to remain a threat in forward areas and strong combination play between Fernando Llorente and Tevez resulted in the Argentine stinging the fingertips of Rafael with a fearsome left-footed drive on 21 minutes.

      Clearly relishing the big occasion, Tevez resumed his personal duel with the shotstopper moments later, sending in a low strike that was tipped behind for a corner.

      As the Bianconeri supporters at the stadium began to raise their voices, Andrea Pirlo looked to reward their support with a spectacular volley from range, but was unable to direct his 20-yard effort either side of Rafael.

      As well as frequently picking up the pieces on the edge of the area, Juventus also experienced plenty of joy down the right-hand touchline where Stephan Lichtsteiner’s bursts into the box were a constant cause of concern for the Partenopei rearguard.

      However, the opposition dangers Allegri and Buffon touched on in yesterday’s press conference were always ready to spring into action and, as the clock ticked down towards the interval, it was Higuain who almost pulled his team level from close range, foiled only by a smart save from the Juventus captain.  

      The start of the second half yielded another close shave for the men in black and white who were left counting their blessings after Jose Callejon rolled Hamsik’s defence-splitting pass inches wide of the post.

      Sensing their moment might have come, Napoli continued to probe and another neat Hamsik through ball sprung the offside trap to send Higuain rushing through from an acute angle. With Buffon looking to move off his line, the Argentine lifted the ball over the goalkeeper but, much to the Bianconeri’s relief, saw his dink brush back off the post.

      On 67 minutes, it proved to be third time lucky for the forward when he captialised on a fine run and cross from Jonathan De Guzman to glance a close-range header past the stranded Buffon.  

      The equaliser sparked some immediate upward momentum from Allegri’s men with Llorente flicking down for Tevez to work Rafael before the Pamplona-born frontman sent a header over the top after connecting with Lichtsteiner’s pinpoint centre.

      With extra time looming, the Bianconeri poured forward in search of a last-gasp winner, but neither Arturo Vidal nor Tevez were able to find the golden touch to cap a dramatic finale.

      Juventus picked up where they left off at the start of additional time as substitute Roberto Pereyra, on in place of Pirlo, and Paul Pogba both drew saves from Rafael within the space of two minutes.

      Still Allegri’s troops continued to press and Llorente will consider himself unlucky not to have hit the target with a rasping drive on the turn from the edge of the area.  

      The moment their unrelenting pressure fully deserved finally arrived just 35 seconds after the start of the second half of extra time. Tevez it was who made a nuisance of himself on the edge of the area, collecting Pogba’s pass and skipping past two opponents before squeezing a low shot into the corner.

      Now forced to pile men forward in search of an equaliser, Napoli upped the tempo and were only prevented from levelling matters by an inspired Buffon, who blocked Higuain’s strike from point-blank range on 110 minutes.

      Yet there was nothing the goalkeeper could do about the goal that restored parity, with Higuain prodding home a loose ball in the area to force a penalty shootout with two minutes remaining.

      And Buffon’s heroics on spot kicks eventually proved in vain as, after the Bianconeri had seen two previous match points slip through their grasp, Simone Padoin had his strike saved to settle the affair once and for all.

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