In the seconds leading up to the first of two Gonzalo Higuain goals against Monaco, the match commentators here in the United States were more focused on his inability to put the ball in the back of the net in the opening stages of Wednesday night’s game. It started with a stumble, had a couple of barely-had-it chances, and thoughts creeping into some of our heads that this could be the Higuain from the two Barcelona games that didn’t take advantage of any of the handful of scoring chances he had rather than finishing them off and celebrating with his teammates like we’re used to.
And then, in an instant and after a couple of backheels that made your mouth water, there was no talk of Higuain struggling.
Far from it.
Juventus’ €90 million man scored two beautiful goals and helped Juventus claim a 2-0 win over Monaco in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal tie in Monte Carlo. It was the first time Higuain found the back of the net in Europe in the calendar year of 2017. And it was ended a five-game streak in which Higuain hadn’t scored in the Champions League, which dated back to Juve’s final group stage game against Dinamo Zagreb. (The juggernaut known as Dinamo Zagreb!)
As he left the field to his name being sung by the traveling Juventus supporters, those same commentators who were bemoaning his missed chances in the first half were describing him in this way: “The magnificent center forward has done it again.”
Indeed he did.
Higuain, Juventus’ current club-record signing, and Gigi Buffon, still the No. 1 on the list when it comes to goalkeeper transfer fees, were two of the biggest reasons as to why the Italian champions were able to find success on Wednesday night. Higuain, of course, was the one scoring the goals and putting an end to his struggles both this season and in his career in the knockout stages. But there was Buffon, still in search of his first Champions League trophy,
I mean, come on. That’s Buffon robbing Zidane in the 2006 World Cup final all over again. Except it’s nearly 11 years later and Buffon is 39 years old instead of a guy in his late-20s about to finish second in the Ballon d’Or voting behind Fabio Cannavaro.
Buffon did Buffon things. Higuain, after shaking off the sluggish start where fat jokes were certainly flying all over the place, did Higuain things. And Juventus did Juventus things.
Juventus returns home to Turin with a 2-0 aggregate lead and two valuable away goals under their belt. Monaco may have nothing to lose heading into the second leg — and with that offensive firepower, you might as well turn them completely loose next week — but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to bet against this Juventus side with the way that they’re rising to the occasion in Europe lately.
Juventus Stadium is about to be rocking next Tuesday.
And unlike the last time Juventus advanced to a Champions League final, the party could very well be in front of the hometown fans.
That’s something that everybody here will be loving to see.
Ninety minutes down, 90 minutes to go.
What an opening 90 minutes it was, too.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- Not a bad way for Buffon to ring in his 100th Champions League game, huh? I posted it on the BWRAO Twitter account and I will repeat it here: The saves this guy makes at the age of 39 is just absolutely insane. I just hope I’ll be able to get out of bed when I turn 39 in a few years.
- Monaco goals in their two games against Manchester City in the Round of 16: Five and three.
- Monaco goals in their two games against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League quarterfinals: Three and three.
- Monaco goals in their first leg against Juventus in the Champions League semifinals: Zero.
- The last time Juventus allowed a goal in the Champions League, I could say that Barack Obama was still the President of my current country of residence. (That’s the BWRAO political chat for the day.)
- If you’ve been reading post-game threads this entire season — and, for that we thank you! — you know that it’s been a love-hate relationship between myswlf and Dani Alves. His Juventus career didn’t start all that well. And he’s had those classic Dani Alves moments — especially on the defensive side of things — where you wonder what exactly he was thinking and/or doing at that exact moment. But, in the last handful of Champions League games, he has been one of Juventus’ players. And considering how Juve have played in those games, that’s saying something.
I will give Alves props for coming up huge with the European games getting bigger and bigger. That’s why Juventus signed him from Barcelona this summer. His Champions League experience really is paying off. And when you keep delivering crosses like that to Higuain — whether it’s picture-perfect balls to the back post or nonchalant backheels that few defenders can pull off — it’s pretty good, too.
- I’ll be dreaming of the Paulo Dybala and Dani Alves backheels on Higuain’s opener later on in the day. Man oh man.
- It’s weird to think that just a couple of minutes before Dybala performed said backheel I was sitting here in my receliner worried sick that he had hurt himself again. I guess he proved that he was healthy. Bless you, Paulo.
- I was wondering how the Claudio Marchisio-Miralem Pjanic partnership would work based on the notion that Monaco LOVES to counterattack and the simple fact that they hadn’t played much alongside each other in the 4-2-3-1 this season. Based on the results on Wednesday night, I think we can say that both Marchisio and Pjanic passed the test with flying colors.
Sami Khedira will almost certainly be back in the starting lineup for the second leg next week, but the Marchisio-Pjanic tandem was more than just a little productive in Monte Carlo.
- I’ll close with this: Kylian Mbappé is already one hell of a player. He’s 18 years old. He’s going to make Monaco a lot, a lot of money and score plenty of goals before that day a transfer deal does go down. Monaco have yet another gem of a French striker on their hands.
- Ninety minutes to Cardiff. This is exciting!
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