And so the Old Lady prevailed, as the old masters of European football finally ended Tottenham’s swashbuckling adventure in the Champions League.
This was a masterclass in how to win a European tie despite being up against a vibrant in-form side who had beaten Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the group stages and were favourites to progress.
But the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Gianluigi Buffon, and Gonzalo Higuain have not contested two of the past three Champions League finals for nothing, and they showed last night, as Real Madrid had the previous evening in Paris, that you write off such grandees of European football at your peril.
Outplayed for much of the game last night, as they had been in Turin last month, Juventus struck when it mattered, taking two chances in the space of three minutes to come from behind and end Tottenham’s 17-match unbeaten run — and end their Champions League dream.
And while those wily old campaigners played their parts to the full, it was fascinating to watch the contrasting fortunes of Harry Kane against Paulo Dybala, two 24-year-olds vying for the title of Europe’s Great Pretender, Dybala did not play in the first leg three weeks ago, missing the game with a hamstring injury, but Kane made his mark with the first goal in Tottenham’s stirring comeback and the sort of powerful performance we have come to expect from the England forward.
Dybala was back last night, however, giving Juventus an extra touch of quality going forward and a very real goal threat that proved to be decisive.
For much of the first hour, however, the young Argentine was on the back foot, having to drop deep to help out his defence time after time as Spurs threatened to overwhelm the Italians. With Kane leading the Londoners’ line in the old-fashioned way, with his back to goal and a bruising centre-half in his back, Spurs looked the likelier side to score, and so it proved. Kane put Heung Min Son in for a shot that was saved, and then went close himself when he beat Chiellini to the ball and took it around Buffon, only to play into the sidenetting rather than the goal.
At this stage, 15 minutes in, Dybala dropped as deep as right-back to help break up a Spurs attack, and when he did get a rare chance to run with the ball, he was unceremoniously dumped by Jan Vertonghen, who was booked.
Kane was prepared to drop deeper too, and he initiated the move from which Tottenham took a deserved lead. Collecting the ball close to the half-way line, he slipped a well-weighted forward pass to Christian Eriksen, whose shot was half cleared. Kieran Trippier drilled back the loose ball and Son did the rest, clipping the ball past Buffon.
Spurs were elated, ahead in the tie for the first time and in control of the game. But things changed after an hour, as Max Allegri made the substitutions that helped swing the game Juve’s way.
Introducing the speedy Kwadwo Asamoah and Switzerland full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner in quick succession on the hour mark gave Dybala the freedom to get forward, and he did so with devastating effect.
At first it looked like he had fluffed his lines, volleying wide of the far post in the 62nd minute when he a sliced clearance from Davinson Sanchez fell invitingly.
But within five minutes Juventus had tuned it round. Higuain, who had barely seen the ball for the previous hour, was in the right place when Lichtsteiner’s cross was nodded in his direction, and he made no mistake in beating Hugo Lloris with a clever finish from close range.
And minutes later, Higuain turned provider as he slipped the ball through for Dybala to skip clear of an attempted offside trap that was let down by Ben Davies at left-back. The Argentinian, faced with a one-on-one with Lloris, did not spurn this chance, coolly drawing the French keeper before chipping the ball over him and into the net.
From that point on it always looked like Italian knowhow was going to hold out against this young Tottenham team, who are still relative novices at this level.
Chiellini and Co used every trick in the book to eat up the remaining 25 minutes, going down at the slightest opportunity, taking their time over substitution and repelling all borders.
They had a mighty scare in the 90th minute when Spurs, having thrown the kitchen sink at them, thought they had scored as a Kane header evaded Buffon and bounced off a post on the line. But it stubbornly refused to cross the line, Juventus were in the clear, and into the quarter-finals.
The streetwise Italians had overcome the upstarts from north London with a classic hit and run job, and it is a lesson Mauricio Pochettino’s men must learn, from the masters.
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