By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
Juventus lifted the silverware, Napoli promised so much but fell short, refereeing decisions came under the spotlight, and the off the field events of the summer loomed large over the proceedings throughout. The Supercoppa Italiana proved once again that while so much changes in football, everything stays very much the same, with the Bianconeri’s possession-based game just about seeing them through to victory after a contest full of drama in Beijing.
After the announcement of Antonio Conte’s Calcioscommesse ban on Friday, Massimo Carrera took charge of operations pitchside for the first time in his career, and made a very good first impression thanks largely to a game-changing half-time substitution when he introduced Mirko Vucinic for Alessandro Matri.
As was the case for much of the 2011-12 campaign, Juve saw plenty of the ball but could make little of it in the first half, with Matri’s static approach up top doing little to help them make the most of their advantages in territory and possession. What's more, they were up against a Napoli side intent on punishing them, just as they did in the Coppa Italia final in May, and for long spells of their Serie A contest at the San Paolo in November.
|MATCH FACTS | Juventus 4-2 Napoli
Following Lucio’s attempt to play Edinson Cavani offside in his own half, the Uruguayan failed to round Gianluigi Buffon but then kept his head to side-foot home at the second attempt. A goal behind with Andrea Pirlo shackled by a combination of Marek Hamsik, Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler, and the remainder of the attacking unit looking short of ideas on how to break down the Partenopei’s three-man back line, Juve momentarily seemed to lose their cool.
But an inspired crossfield pass from Arturo Vidal picked out debutant Kwadwo Asamoah on the left, and with Christian Maggio having wandered out of position, the Ghanaian was able to power a magnificent first-time volley beyond Massimo De Sanctis at the near post. Questions are always asked of goalkeepers conceding on the front stick, but with the force of Asamoah’s shot, plus the skid it took off the wet surface, De Sanctis was always going to be severely examined.
That that was the Bianconeri’s first shot on target was a telling statistic, and before long they were left chasing the game once more thanks to Leonardo Bonucci’s latest piece of calamitous defending. The former Bari man – cleared of Calcioscommesse involvement 24 hours earlier – has so often shown in the past that a mistake is never far away no matter how composed he appears to be, and the negative side of his game reared its ugly head again in Beijing.
Facing his own goal, he attempted to hook a ball away on the stretch with no cover in behind him, meaning that when he miscued straight into the harrying Goran Pandev, he had given the Macedonian a clear run in on goal. The striker showed superb composure to draw Buffon and clip an inch-perfect effort over the sprawling Juventus skipper.
The Italian champions needed something inspired ahead of the second half, and the introduction of Vucinic supplied just that. With his greater movement, the former Roma man finally asked questions of an ever-fallible Napoli defence. Now more stretched and panicked, they were always likely to make a mistake, and it was no surprise when Federico Fernandez misjudged a challenge on Vucinic to concede a penalty. Vidal slotted home and it was 2-2.
Then came the controversy. With five minutes left of normal time, Pandev questioned a linesman over a previous incident, apparently using a few choice words. The red card came out, and Napoli were up against it. While there was no clear evidence to the public as to what Pandev said, there could be no doubt over the second dismissal which followed in injury time.
Already on a yellow card for a set-to with Stephan Lichtsteiner, Juan Zuniga went in late and a little high on Sebastian Giovinco, giving Paolo Mazzoleni every reason to show a second red card. In his protests, Walter Mazzarri was also sent from the bench and Napoli would later refuse to take part in the presentation ceremony in protest, but all the evidence suggested that there was little to argue about.
What there was no argument about was the fact that Juve were now massive favourites, and they took little time in ensuring victory during the additional 30 minutes. First De Sanctis and Maggio conspired to deal horrendously with a free kick, with the defender turning into his own net. Then Vucinic was left with a tap in after Claudio Marchisio’s inspired first time pass from Asamoah’s angled ball.
With that, Juventus’ superiority in Italian football was re-affirmed, and Carrera was left to dedicate the victory to Conte in his post-match TV interview. But he should take credit too. He has passed the first of what will be many examinations this season as Juve look to defend their Scudetto and also make an assault on Europe without their coach on the bench.
So far, so good, and so little has changed too. Calcio is back, and is just as we remembered it.