Juventus eliminate AC Milan to reach Coppa Italia semis

Turin, Jan 26 (IANS) Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic scored early to help defending champions Juventus defeat AC Milan 2-1 and set up the semi-final clash against Napoli in the Coppa Italia football tournament here.

Dybala on Wednesday scored a field goal in the 10th minute, while Pjanic struck a beautiful free-kick goal to ensure that an attacking Juventus take a 2-0 lead early at the Juventus Stadium.

Carlos Bacca scored for Milan in the second half early but they failed to find the equaliser which paved way for Juventus’ win.

With this win, Juventus will now face Napoli in a two-legged semi-final in March and April. Napoli on Tuesday edged past Fiorentina 1-0.

Juventus’ approach to the match gave a lot of sign of how the Turin giants are desperate to become the first club to win three consecutive Coppa Italia champions. Their head coach Massimiliano Allegri fielded an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation, with Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado playing behind Gonzalo Higuain in the attack.

The hsosts had bulldozed Lazio with this formation in the Serie A and this time as well they caught a brilliant start. It took only 10 minutes before they took the lead when Argentine Dybala picked up the pieces from a corner before thumping home on the volley for his fourth strike in as many home matches in 2017.

They capitalised on their dominance with a second goal 11 minutes later when Juraj Kucka’s foul on the edge of the area resulted in a free-kick. Bosnian set-piece specialist Pjanic bent an absolute beauty of a free-kick up and over the Milan wall and into Gianluigi Donnarumma’s top corner to make it 2-0.

Later, Sami Khedira even had the ball in the back of the net on the half-hour mark only to see it chalked off for offside.

Milan needed a strong response in the second half and Colombian Bacca flicked home powerfully on the volley to reduce the margin.

Within 60 seconds of celebrating their lifeline back into the contest however, the visitors were made to come to terms with playing the remainder of the match with ten men after Manuel Locatelli received his marching orders for a second booking on the night.

Eager to make the most of their numerical advantage, Juventus created a number of chances, with Mandzukic sending two headers wide of the mark.

But Milan refused to surrender and Juventus goalkeeper Neto was tested as he dived low to his left to tip Kucka’s drive around the post.

With just the one goal separating the sides, the final 20 minutes gave way to some frenetic football with plenty happening at both ends of the field.

Khedira could not believe his luck upon seeing his shot deflected wide by Alex Sandro’s trailing foot, while Pjanic very nearly performed the spectacular as he attempted an audacious backheel volley from Cuadrado’s delightfully drifted cross, the ball heading towards the top corner before Donnarumma got across to make the crucial block.

For Milan, Gerard Deulofeu, making his club debut after completing a loan switch from Everton, nearly grabbed an equaliser but Neto came to the home side’s rescue as Juventus held on to the lead till the end.

“The most important thing for us is to make sure we always play with the same attitude as tonight,” Juventus coach Allegri told his club’s website.

“We’re determined to go all the way and I really do want to congratulate the lads because we’ve won the Cup the last two seasons and now we’re in the semi-finals again.”