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Juve hold out for tense draw at Napoli

Juve hold out for tense draw at Napoli

NAPLES: Serie A leaders Juventus withstood prolonged pressure as they held out for a tense 1-1 draw at third-placed Napoli in an absorbing match on Sunday.

Sami Khedira gave Juve a seventh-minute lead before Marek Hamsik finished off a flowing exchange of passes to score a superb equaliser on the hour and give Napoli a deserved point.

Gonzalo Higuain was given a hot reception by Napoli fans on his return to the San Paolo stadium following his acrimonious move last July but made little impact on the game.

“Higuain had a good game, I’m happy with him,” Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “He should be grateful to Napoli for what it gave him and Napoli should be grateful to him for what he did.”

It was not a vintage performance from Juve, but with another meeting with Napoli looming in the Italian Cup semi-final second leg on Wednesday (which Juve lead 3-1), and an upcoming Champions League clash with Barcelona to think about, Allegri shrugged that off.

“A great squad also needs to know how to suffer and to be humble. We have to be first in May and then nobody will remember we didn’t play well in Napoli,” he said.

Juve, who have 74 points from 30 games, remained 10 points clear of Napoli although their advantage over AS Roma is down to six.

Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said he felt his side could have taken all three points.

“It is a shame we didn’t win. We had the chances to. But when a team plays like that, the coach can go home with every type of emotion except disappointment. “Never in Italy have we seen Juventus in such difficulty.”

With Higuain making his first return to his former club in a Juve shirt, it was always going to be a highly-charged affair and the Argentine striker was treated to over a minute of uninterrupted whistling when he walked out at a stadium where he was once idolized.

But the visitors silenced the San Paolo when Khedira picked up a loose ball, played a slick one-two with Miralem Pjanic, and scored with a shot which went under the arms of Napoli keeper Rafael, who was standing in for the injured Pepe Reina.

Napoli dominated from then on. Marek Hamsik and Lorenzo Insigne sent efforts wide, while Dries Mertens fired straight at Gianluigi Buffon.

Jose Callejon had the ball in the back of the net in the 56th but it was ruled out for offside.

Napoli’s pressure paid off four minutes later as Mertens played in a delightful through ball which Hamsik curled into the top right corner.

They were nearly gifted a second goal when Mertens intercepted Kwadwo Asamoah’s backpass but could only shoot against the foot of the post from a narrow angle.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2017

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