Holders Juventus overcame an early deficit to beat Napoli 3-1 in controversial Coppa Italia semifinal first leg tie on Tuesday night, Paulo Dybala scoring two penalties to keep the Turin based club’s hopes of a ‘triple double’ alive.
Both sides sent out fairly strong line ups for the epic clash at the Juventus Stadium, with a front three of Paulo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain starting for the hosts while the visitors had a very potent attacking trio of Arek Milik, Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon.
And Napoli were the team that controlled the tempo off the game, with their midfield winning the battle in the middle of the pitch but Juve’s reserve keeper Neto was largely untested for the first half-hour. The Brazilian, who starts only in the Coppa Italia with Gianluigi Buffon being preferred in the Serie A and the Champions league, dealt with shots from distance fairly comfortably.
Napoli’s domination eventually paid dividends with a stunning move involving all three forwards. Insigne and Milik played a slightly unorthodox one-two before the former sent in a low cross from the left for Callejon to finish at the far post in the 36th minute.
Mandzukic had a chance to level the game but his shot was superbly saved by Pepe Reina and Stepehen Lichsteiner was unable to finish the resulting rebound.
Massimiliano Allegri was a worried man as the sides returned to the dressing room at half time, with his team failing to test Reina in the opening 45 minutes apart from that chance.
It was left to the mercurial Dybala to save the day and the Argentine did just that, winning and then scoring a penalty in the 47th minute to level the tie. Kalidou Koulibay’s outstretched leg had caught the attacker in the box and Dybala cooly sent Reina the wrong way before wheeling away with his trademark ‘mask’ celebration in delight.
Gonzalo Higuain, the most expensive signing in the history of Serie A, then turned the match on its head with a smart volley from an acute angle in the 63rd minute. Reina had come to collect a Juan Cuadrado cross but missed the ball completely and the Argentine striker calmly volleyed home to compound the visitors’ misery.
The key moment in the match came with the second penalty decision, as match referee Paolo Valeri felt that Reina hadn't got the ball when tackling Cuadrado in the box. Replays suggested that the Spanish goalkeeper had got a bit of the ball even as the Colombian winger looked to round him after being set up by Dybala and perhaps that is why the furious Napoli players surrounded the official but to no avail.
For the second time on the night, Dybala stepped up and delivered from the spot, finishing on the left again, deceiving Reina to give Juventus a definitive advantage in the two-legged semifinal and with little over twenty minutes left on the clock, managed to preserve their lead on the night.
A 2-1 result would have left it open for either side, but the third goal puts the Bianconeri in the ascendancy and they will fancy their chances of progressing to the final after the second leg which is scheduled for April 5.