It wasn't a straightforward victory. There were a few hairy moments throughout, but in the end Juventus did enough to eliminate the French side without playing to a level we know they can. It was a professional, if not convincing performance.
It all started well on the night. Not even 30 seconds had passed before Mirko Vucinic found Mauricio Isla, whose cross was defended well by Lyon. Carlos Tévez then came close in the 3rd minute with a long range drive that went over the bar.
A minute later Tévez was taken down outside the box as he attacked the Lyon defence. We were in 'Zona Pirlo.' Il Maestro duly stepped up and whipped the free kick into the Lyon net. This was his third free kick goal in 25 days. It has come to the point that free kicks have become almost like penalties for Pirlo, such is the ability of the bearded one to strike the ball from a direct free kick. Even Pirlo's celebration demonstrated his confidence in his own ability — he turned away in celebration even before the ball hit the net.
With a two-goal lead — including an away goal — it looked like Juve had all, but booked their semi final place. Nevertheless, Juve continue to push forward. Kwadwo Asamoah cutting inside and having a goal-bound shot blocked. In the 13th minute Lyon's first real attack of note came where Lyon claimed a handball from Bonucci. A minute later Tévez went down in the box claiming a penalty himself. Neither shout looked convincing.
Then in the 18th minute out of nowhere came the equalizer from Lyon as Jimmy Briand converted a chance while the Juve defence fell asleep. A well worked corner made it to the back post. Claudio Marchisio was caught ball watching but credit to Lyon for a well worked goal. This game was very much back on.
Pirlo had been decisive from the dead ball but just like the first leg he was struggling to control the game as Lyon and Steed Malbranque in particular policed him well. Again, this is where we saw Leonardo Bonucci advancing into midfield as Pirlo stepped back at times to be the deepest Juve player on the pitch (Buffon aside, of course). Neither side could gain the lead prior to half time but Lyon did threaten Buffon on occasion.
Juve started the second half well and a great cross from Asamoah saw Lyon keeper Anthony Lopes get a vital touch to get take it away from Tévez who was waiting at the back post. A minute later Asamoah threatened again with a shot stopped again by Lopes. Then, the level of Juve's intensity began to drop off. Perhaps some nerves from previous bad experiences in Europe entered the minds of the players. It was time for a substitution and Antonio Conte replaced Vucinic with Fernando Llorente.
The hero from the Livorno victory was on and won a corner from which Tévez converted Pirlo's whipped delivery. It looked like the "drought" was over but the linesman's flag determined otherwise. There was no such problem in the 68th minute when Marchisio's effort from distance was deflected past the hapless keeper by Lyon defender Umtiti. The hometown boy confirmed Juve would be one step closer to a hometown final in May. The Juventus Stadium was hopping and it was a case of seeing out the final twenty minutes.
Arturo Vidal was replaced by Paul Pogba who I'm sure was being keenly watched by Juve legend Didier Deschamps in the crowd. Tévez was then replaced by Sebastian Giovinco and the fans applause displayed that the whole European goal drought for Carlitos is not an issue.
As the game edged towards the 90-minute mark, a Mexican wave broke out amongst the home fans. It was party time at the Juventus Stadium and although the Europa League may not be the elite competition in Europe getting to the semifinals is a huge step forward for this Juve side in being considered a top club in Europe again.
Buffon: 6.5 – Made some very good saves look easy where other mere mortal keepers would have struggled.
Caceres: 7 – Strong defensive performance. Proved to be more than capable in one-v-one situations and had some important headed clearances.
Bonucci: 7 – Again filled in for Pirlo as regista at times and passing appeared to improve from last week. Solid defensively.
Chiellini: 6.5 – Typical Chiellini performance. Some good headed clearances, a couple of fouls and a smart dive here and there.
Isla: 5.5 – Not much of an improvement on last weeks performance. Rarely threatened going forward.
Vidal: 6.5 – Did not have much of an impact in an attacking sense but put in some important tackles and interceptions.
Pirlo: 7 – Was well marked by Malbranque again but his majestic free kick went a long way to sealing semi final spot.
Marchisio: 6.5 – Didn't have his greatest game in a Juve shirt but as always never gives up and his deflected strike sealed the tie.
Asamoah: 7 – Has become a consistently good performer in Europe. Got forward when he could and was very good defensively.
Tévez: 6.5 – Worked hard as always and came close to scoring on a couple of occasions. Not that it really matters but that goal will come.
Vucinic: 6 – It didn't really happen for Mirko tonight after an impressive cameo last week.
Llorente: 6 - Held up the ball well when he came on but failed to have any major impact
Giovinco: 6 – Very committed when he came on the pitch. This was proven by the amount of times he was fouled by the Lyon defence.
Pogba: 6 - Didn't really get a chance to have an impact on the game.
Conte: 6.5 – Another professional job done for Conte. It was like Juve were in 3rd gear but that was sufficient to progress. Tougher ties await.
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