Real Madrid all-but secured their place in the Champions League knockout phase with a 2-2 draw against Juventus in Turin that leaves the Italian champions’ future in the competition still very much in the balance.
After just two points from their opening three matches, Juventus looked on course for a much-needed win at the interval. A strong first-half display gave them the lead through an Arturo Vidal penalty after Raphael Varane brought down Paul Pogba. But Madrid were much improved after the break and took control of proceedings with two goals in eight minutes just prior to the hour mark through Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Both defenses looked shaky throughout and allowed Juventus to strike back for what could yet prove a vital equalizer from Fernando Llorente.
Madrid now have 10 points from their four matches, with their progress now a formality. It is a very different story for Juventus, who lie marooned at the bottom of the group with just three points to their name, a point behind both Copenhagen and Galatasaray following the Danish side’s win in the night’s other game. A win is now a must at home to Copenhagen in three weeks’ time before they will need at least a draw in Istanbul against Galatasaray.
After some early sparring, Juventus seized control. It was down the left flank, with Paul Pogba a dynamic presence and Carlos Tevez cutting in that Juventus were having the bulk of their success. First, it was the young midfielder’s cross with the outside of his right foot that led to one of several Madrid defensive errors as Pepe swung rashly at a clearance and was it required a fine reaction stop from Iker Casillas, for the first of several occasions, to keep the ball at bay.
Casillas, continuing to play in the Champions League while Diego Lopez wears the gloves in La Liga, had to be alert too to keep his side level just before the half-hour mark. Fed by Pogba, Tevez put in a dangerous in-swinging cross and Claudio Marchisio met it with a header at the back post that was kept out by the right leg of Madrid’s keeper.
With his side clearly on top, Antonio Conte will have been desperate for them to take advantage before the break. And in the 42nd minute they did just that. Fernando Llorente produced some textbook target-man play to hold the ball up before swinging it out left where Tevez fed it onto Pogba in the area. Varane arrived with a challenge that got none of the ball and enough of his fellow France international to warrant Howard Webb pointing to the spot. Vidal made no mistake, striking it into the roof of the net.
There was little pattern to Madrid’s play in the opening 45 minutes. If a goal was going to come from the visitors then it was looking as it would have to come through the individual quality of their front three. Things weren’t working out for them early on, however; a fact summed up by Karim Benzema and Ronaldo both going for Marcelo’s pull back and making a hash of their best chance of the period.
It was to be a very different story after the break. Madrid had far more impetus and roared back into the game, albeit helped by two woeful pieces of defending. Former Barcelona defender Martin Caceres twice did his former club’s great rivals big favors, first with a hapless pass inside his own half that deflected off of Ronaldo to the feet of Benzema. The ball was quickly returned to the Portuguese one-on-one with Buffon and he produced a typically cool finish.
There was suddenly frantic action at both ends. In the space of a couple of minutes Xabi Alonso smashed a shot against the crossbar, while Casillas continued his heroics by denying Claudio Marchisio from close range at the near post before Pepe cleared off the line from the Italian’s follow up.
There was little surprise when the net was rippling once more on the stroke of an hour. Again it was an error from Caceres that enabled the goal, with the Uruguayan allowing Ronaldo to run in behind him from a long pass forward. Ronaldo played a pass across the edge of the box for Bale and with Kwadwo Asamoah failing to show the Welshman onto his weaker foot, he struck a superb low left-footed shot to beat Gianluigi Buffon.
The momentum now appeared to be squarely with the visitors. Still, neither side could be depended upon defensively and five minutes later Juventus drew level. Caceres in small part atoned for his blunders at the other end with a cross that led to Varane losing track of both the ball and his man to allow Llorente to stoop and head on goal to beat Casillas for the second time in as many weeks.
Both sides appeared largely content to take a point for the remainder of the match, but Juventus now have no margin for error in their final two fixtures.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.