By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
It had to happen sometime, but even when it did Juventus had the last laugh. And, having finally been defeated over 90 minutes, the Bianconeri can comfort themselves with the knowledge that they are now only one game away from getting their hands on major silverware again. It has been a while.
Not since 2004 have they appeared in the Coppa Italia final, and, thanks to the loss of the two Calciopoli titles, that remains the year of their last major trophy. But with last night’s extra-time success against AC Milan sending them back to the final eight years on, Juventus are closer than ever to ending their purgatorial hell.
They did it the hard way though. It was 32 games and 10 months since the Old Lady had suffered defeat, and they knew that the extension of that run would be enough to see them book their date in Rome on May 20, but they reckoned without an excellent second-half display from the Rossoneri.
Everything looked to be going to plan when Stephan Lichtsteiner was allowed space to cross from the right, and Alessandro Del Piero got the better of Marco Amelia before tucking the ball home. The goalkeeper claimed a handball, but on first glance there seemed nothing untoward and Juve were 3-1 up on aggregate.
Djamel Mesbah’s attempts to reverse his recent form were not going well as the second leg headed for half-time. The Algerian, who was so memorably given the run around by Arsenal a fortnight ago, had gone missing as Lichtsteiner teed up the opening goal, and then ran straight into Thiago Silva to allow Mirko Vucinic in behind for another Juve chance. He gained redemption soon after the break though.
|MATCH FACTS | Juventus 2-2 Milan (aet)
With the home defence standing square as Philippe Mexes launched a cross-field ball over the top of them, Mesbah timed his run to perfection and executed a delightful diving header which Marco Storari was never going to save. All tied on the night, but Milan still had some catching up to do.
Having lost the flu-ridden Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the interval, the Rossoneri suddenly looked sharper at the top end. With nine minutes left on the clock, Maxi Lopez – the Swede’s replacement – showed tremendous feet to work his way out of two tackles, then hit a stinging shot with little backlift from just outside the area. Again, it was too much for Storari, and suddenly Juve were a beaten side for the first time all season.
But, thanks to their 2-1 first-leg win, they had the get-out clause of extra-time. And they used it perfectly.
With Milan having made desperate changes to get back level, including throwing 38-year-old Filippo Inzaghi on up front, they now had to make them work for another 30 minutes. Instead, Juve flew out of the blocks and crushed them into submission.
First, Claudio Marchisio blazed over from a Vucinic pass, then the Montenegrin and Marco Borriello were both denied by desperate cover. The goal was coming, but nobody realised just how good it would be when it did.
Given the slightest bit of space to assess his options, Vucinic unleashed a spearing shot from 30 yards out, the ball speed increasing as it flew beyond Amelia and into the net. Juve were level on the night, back in front overall, and dreaming of the final once more.
Milan had no response this time, not even when throwing Mexes up front for the final five minutes to add an extra dimension. Defeat or no defeat, this was to be Juventus’ night.
The side that have made such tremendous leaps this season after two years of massive underachievement have their first reward. Their inconsistencies may well have left them playing catch-up in the league title race, but at least now they know that whatever happens in the pursuit of the Scudetto, they will head for the Stadio Olimpico at the end of term with the chance to make an announcement to the Italian game.
Juventus’ last silverware of any type was the 2007 Serie B title, but even the very mention of it brings back bad memories of an unwanted low in the club’s history. Ahead of a potentially pivotal summer transfer campaign, becoming the 2012 Coppa Italia winners would be the first major step on the road to redemption.The Bianconeri can’t wait for May 20 to come around.
Follow Kris Voakes on