Juventus beat Inter on penalties to enter Coppa Italia final

Milan, March 3 (IANS) Turin’s football giants Juventus booked their place in the Coppa Italia final with a 5-3 win on penalties after the hosts had clawed their way back from 0-3 down in the first leg to draw 3-3 on aggregate here.

Inter on Wednesday scored through Marcelo Brozovic (16th and 82nd) and Ivan Perisic (49th) to bring the aggregate level on 3-3, forcing the game to the shoot-out where defending champions Juventus prevailed at the San Siro Stadium.

In the shoot-out, Andrea Barzagli, Simeone Zaza, Alvaro Morata, Paul Pogba and captain for the night Leonardo Bonucci all kept their cool from 11 metres out, with Rodrigo Palacio’s miss ultimately proving the difference in what was a case of history repeating itself after the Old Lady’s penalty triumph over Inter in the 2004 semi-finals.

Knowing they had to beat Juventus on the night by at least three goals, Roberto Mancini’s charges unsurprisingly came quickly out of the traps, pushing high up the field and fashioning the game’s first effort, dragged wide by Perisic after ten minutes.

The visitors were being made to defend early on, but in all truth, they were unfortunate to concede the opener when referee Andrea Gervasoni adjudged Gary Medel’s burly dispossession of Hernanes to be within the letter of the law and the Chilean midfielder released Brozovic, who tucked home neatly past Neto.

The goal galvanised the hosts, who could sense an opportunity to score again in quick succession, and they very nearly did just that when Adem Ljajic’s looping shot cannoned off the crossbar in the 25th minute.

Then, as half-time approached, Inter stepped up their search for a second goal, Perisic heading over and Adem Ljajic driving just whiskers wide of the mark.

Their persistent pursuit paid off shortly after the interval when Eder galloped down the right and crossed perfectly for Perisic to slot into the bottom corner.

Now more than ever, Juventus knew how valuable an away goal would be in swinging the momentum of the tie back in their favour and they so nearly re-extended their aggregate advantage when Zaza beat the offside trap and struck Carrizo’s near post on 55 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Nerazzurri were no less menacing up front, with Ljajic dribbling past the visitors’ defence before firing marginally to the right of Neto’s upright.

Danilo D’Ambrosio, too, came close to hitting an equaliser, the defender heading inches over the bar from Ljajic’s free-kick in the 72nd minute.

Spurred on by the willing running of Eder and Perisic down the channels, the hosts eventually achieved parity on 82 minutes when Daniel Rugani brought down the latter inside the area and Brozovic squeezed his spot-kick under Neto.

Perisic continued to lead the Nerazzurri charge in extra-time, forcing another smart reaction save from Neto, his curling header seemingly destined for the top corner.

The Bianconeri needed a source of inspiration from somewhere and Zaza almost provided it in the 101st minute when he stole the ball off D’Ambrosio and struck inches wide of the target. The forward had goalkeeper Juan Carrizo concerned once more just a few minutes later, when he fired into the side-netting from the left.

Pogba too was making his presence felt since replacing Kwadwo Asamoah and the Frenchman might have matched his midfield brawn with what would have been the most precious of left-footed volleys, sending Juan Cuadrado’s corner just beyond the far post.

Then, in the final minute, Morata was left wondering how he hadn’t sealed a certain winner, when Carrizo flung himself first at the Spaniard’s fierce curler towards the top corner before denying him split seconds later at point blank range to take the game to penalties.

In an incredibly tense shoot-out, Argentine Palacio would be the only player to fluff his lines. Andrea Barzagli, Brozovic, Zaza, Morata, Rey Manaj, Pogba, Yuto Nagatomo and Bonucci all converted in an eventual 5-3 win for the visitors that books their place in the competition’s showpiece event at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on May 21.

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