| New Delhi
| April 29, 2017 4:13 am
Juventus defender Dani Alves (C) celebrates his goal with his teammates (Photo: AFP)
Juventus’ inexorable march towards their sixth-consecutive Serie A title continued on Friday, despite the Bianconeri being held to a battling 2-2 draw at Atlanta.
Dani Alves’ diving header in the 83rd minute looked to have sealed their fourth league win on the trot, only for Atlanta to equalise via almost-comical fashion when two Juve defenders collided with each other to allow Remo Freuler to bundle home in the 89th minute.
Despite having a UEFA Champions League semifinal against Monaco on Wednesday, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri chose to start all of his big names, including the likes of Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, for the trip to 5th-ranked Atlanta.
The hosts were unbeaten at home in 2017 and gave as good as they got agains the Serie A leaders in a game which had plenty of end-to-end action.
Both teams had plenty of half-chances in the opening exchanges but the first clear-cut chance fell to Atlanta, when Giorgio Chiellini injured himself while clearing the ball to an Atlanta midfielder who immediately fed forward Alejandro Gomez. Gianluigi Buffon was alert to the danger and came out of his line quickly to make a vital stop and it would be Juventus’ turn to squander a golden opportunity next.
Chiellini sent in delightful cross at the far-post from the left flank and but Juan Cuadrado could only send his volley just wide to let the hosts off the hook.
Dybala and Higuain had shots from distance and while the former’s was well over, the latter didn't trouble Atlanta keeper Etrit Berisha much as his shots went straight to him.
And it would be the hosts who would got the breakthrough, Andrea Conti’s acrobatic volley from Gomez’s cross beating Buffon at the far post after some scrappy build-up play seconds before half-time.
Juve knew they needed a goal quickly if they wanted to stand a chance of winning the tie and they did just that, equalising with just five minutes played in the second-half, benefitting from a stroke of luck as Leonardo Spinazzola headed Mirajlem Pjanic’s free-kick into his own net.
The sides continued to trade chances post the equaliser, with Dybala testing Berisha from an acute angle before Gomez let fly with a venomous shot from distance which Buffon had no option but to play it over and tip it over the bar.
There was a moment of controversy in the second-half, as Rafael Toloi clearly handled Alex Sandro’s cross, but referee Marco Guida felt otherwise.
Higuain went close finding Juventus’ second when he got on the end of Mario Mandzuk’s cross but Berisha was equal to the task
And just as it looked like Juve would be frustrated by the in-form Berisha, Alves popped up with a brilliant diving header to give the Bianconeri a narrow lead in the closing stages.The Brazilian wing-back took of his shirt earning a yellow card for his celebration and it looked like Allegri’s men had nicked it with just seven minutes remaining.
Atlanta, however, needed just six to equalise and Juventus will be kicking themselves for letting in such a soft goal. Pjanic had intercepted an Atlanta cross from the right but his first-touch took him towards substitute Stephen Lichsteiner and the Juventus players got confused about whose ball it was, allowing Atlanta midfielder Freuler to equalise in dramatic circumstances.
With the result, Allegri’s Juventus remain in first place on 84 points from 34 matches while second-placed Roma are nine points behind having played one game fewer.
Atlanta go level on points with fourth-ranked Lazio, who have played a game less and their hopes of securing the Champions League play-off remains alive.
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