Pjanic stunner as Juve sets-up Napoli Cup semis


TURIN, Italy: A superb curling free-kick from Miralem Pjanic kept Juventus on track for a third consecutive Serie A and Italian Cup double on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) after a dramatic 2-1 quarter-final win over 10-man AC Milan.

Milan were looking to hand the two-time defending Cup champions their third defeat in succession after following a 1-0 league win earlier in the season with Italian Super Cup victory in Doha in December.

But despite seeing Carlos Bacca reduce the arrears on 53 minutes after Paulo Dybala and Pjanic had given the hosts a 2-0 lead by the 21st minute, Milan threw away their chance of a fightback when Manuel Locatelli saw red for a second bookable offence when he lunged at Dybala moments later.

Juventus will now meet Napoli in the two-leg semi-finals. Inter Milan host Lazio next week and Roma host second division Cesena in the other last eight ties.

Miralem Pjanik AFP PHOTO

Juventus, bidding for a record sixth consecutive Serie A title, extended their unbeaten run at home to 27 games last week with a 2-0 win over Lazio, and Massimiliano Allegri’s men were in no mood to capitulate at home in the Cup.

Despite leaving ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon on the bench in place of Norberto Neto, Allegri fielded his strongest side and, despite seeing several chances go amiss, could have few regrets.

“We didn’t give them much in the first half, which should have finished 3-0 for us,” said Allegri.

Kwadwo Asamoah’s inswinger caused confusion in the Milan defence after just 10 minutes and when it was flicked on by Juan Cuadrado into the path of Dybala the Argentine had little trouble beating Gianluigi Donnarumma at the ‘keeper’s near post.

A Juraj Kucka foul on Asamoah gave Pjanic the chance for one of his trademark free-kicks, and when Donnarumma left just enough space at his near post the Bosnian curled a weighted drive past the teenaged ‘keeper’s gloves.

Juve should have added more but Gonzalo Higuain then Dybala failed to capitalise on enticing Asamoah crosses.

Milan resumed in determined fashion, although three fouls in quick succession on Cuadrado, Pjanic then Mario Mandzukic proved decisive, Locatelli earning his first caution for taking the Colombian’s feet away moments after the restart.

Juve pressed but minutes later Milan hit back when Bacca pounced on a mis-hit clearance from Sami Khedira to beat Neto on the volley.

Hopes of a fightback dipped when Locatelli saw red on 54 minutes for a two-footed foul on Dybala, which prompted angry clashes between several players.

Juve still struggled to press home their advantage as the match progressed, Mandzukic twice spurning chances including a glancing header that inched wide.

Milan’s chances were few and far between but on 70 minutes Neto got down low to push Kucka’s long-range drive to safety.

Juventus should have put the match beyond doubt created a host of chances to settle the match during the remainder but late efforts from Khedira and Higuain came to nothing.



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