05.04.2017 23:06 - in: Coppa Italia S

      Higuain brace books place in final

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      Gonzalo Higuain’s strikes either side of half-time send Juventus to their third consecutive Coppa Italia final despite defeat on a crazy night in Naples

      Two clinical finishes from Gonzalo Higuain in either half sent Juventus to a third consecutive Coppa Italia final at the expense of Napoli on a frantic night at the Stadio San Paolo.

      Higuain looked to have twice killed off any hope of an Azzurri comeback to put Juve first 4-1 and then 5-2 up on aggregate either side of a Marek Hamsik equaliser only for Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne to reduce the aggregate deficit in a breathless opening to the second period.

      Once 3-2 ahead on the night, Napoli failed to craft any further opportunities as Juve stood firm to book their place at the showpiece event in Rome where they will meet Lazio for the second time in three seasons.


      Both sides began the game with the intention of establishing an early lead and both probably ought to have done so within the opening 10 minutes. After a basketball-style start to the action, Juve were left ruing a point-blank block on Alex Sandro after Napoli had failed to clear a corner.

      The home side were cursing their own luck moments later as Norberto Neto superbly denied Jose Callejon on the six-yard line following Insigne’s clever backheel.

      As the tension began to rise in midfield with yellow cards flashed in the directions of Callejon, Tomas Rincon, Kalidou Koulibaly and Juan Cuadrado, so too did the nerves in the Napoli defence, Vlad Chiriches nearly gifting the Bianconeri the lead only for Rincon to blaze over the bar unmarked.


      Enter Higuain. For, no more than 60 seconds later, the 2015 and 2016 Coppa Italia winners were celebrating a fabulous opening goal.

      Collecting Stefano Sturaro’s pass 25 yards out, the man of the hour advanced towards the danger zone, took one look up and delivered an unstoppable low drive inside Pepe Reina’s near post.

      The relentless tempo that had characterised the first half somehow found new levels in the second, with Napoli wrestling control of the game from a thereto comfortable Juve.

      Arkadiusz Milik almost caught Neto off guard from distance and was then denied by the same man in the penalty area, the Pole’s header expertly clawed out by the Brazilian goalkeeper.

      Four goals in the space of 14 minutes then raised the bar on an already pulsating cup tie. Hamsik planted a precise shot past Neto to level the scores only for Juve to reply immediately, Cuadrado’s wizardry down the flank setting up Higuain to crash emphatically past Reina for a second time.


      Back came Napoli: within seconds of taking to the field in place of Milik, Dries Mertens capitalised on an unfortunate slip from Neto to roll the ball into an empty net before Insigne fired home Callejon’s cut-back to put the hosts in front for the first time on the night.

      Miralem Pjanic and Andrea Barzagli replaced Rincon and Paulo Dybala respectively to restore control of proceedings and, while the Napoli storm calmed as the action entered the final five minutes, the Bianconeri remained entrenched in their own territory.


      With six minutes of added time indicated by the fourth official, substitute Leonardo Pavoletti fired narrowly over the bar via a deflection and Neto would claim four Napoli crosses in a packed penalty box, but it would not be enough for the Azzurri as Juventus held out to secure their place in a third consecutive final.

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