Turin, Dec 18: Gonzalo Higuain’s goal gave hosts Juventus a 1-0 win over their serie A football league title rivals Roma as the defending champions moved seven points clear at the top, while hosts Milan were held goalless by Atalanta.
The Argentine striker, Juventus’s $98.9 million summer signing, on Saturday night smashed past Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny in the 14th minute to decide a tightly contested encounter between league’s two best sides.
But Luciano Spalletti-coached Roma looked determined for the equaliser and toiled hard, especially in the second half but to no avail as Massimilano Allegri-coached Juventus equalled their own record for consecutive home league victories (25).
Juventus’s cause was also helped by AC Milan’s goalless draw against Atalanta at the San Siro Stadium. Milan came closest to scoring when left-back Luca Antonelli rattled the woodwork.
Following the draw, Milan are third with 33 points — two behind second-placed Roma, while Atalanta are sixth with 29 points.
Five-time defending champions Juventus were favourites coming into the match against Roma and urged on by a record-high Juventus Stadium crowd of 41,470 — according to the champions’ website, the hosts started the game strongly.
Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic almost set up the game’s opening goal inside 10 minutes, his excellent run and cross setting up Higuain who could only side-foot straight at Szczesny. At the second time of asking four minutes later, the Argentine did the job as he collected the ball on the edge of the box before avoiding through two defenders and launching a left-footed shot past Szczesny to make it 1-0.
Gerson, who was playing in place of half-fit Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah, later was booked for a challenge on Juventus’ left-back Alex Sandro as the former struggled in his rhythm.
Roma pushed but clear-cut chances were hard to come by, with a number of corners cleared away inside the six-yard box and openings for Radja inggolan.
Towards the end of the first half, Roma defender Kostas Manolas smashed a shot into a wall of Juventus defenders stationed on the six-yard box after Daniele De Rossi’s corner was cleared with an half effort.
In the second half, Roma had keeper Szczesny to thank for keeping them in the contest as the former Arsel stopper dived and punched away Stefano Sturaro’s low drive after Mandzukic’s smart reverse pass in the box.
Roma had two opportunities to equalise as the game approached its fil quarter of an hour both involving winger Diego Perotti but his first-time shot on the turn was hard to execute and ended up comfortable for Juventus goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon.
The Giallorossi battled hard for the equaliser as the speedy runs of substitutes Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy forced the home side deep into their own territory. But the home team’s defence, marshalled by Daniele Rugani and Giorgio Chiellini, stood firm to seal a huge three points.
“We could have played better, especially technically. Ultimately we didn’t mage possession well and had a few too many hairy moments from set-pieces,” Juventus coach Allegri told his club’s website after the win.
“We’re in a good position and tonight’s win was important as it allows us to move seven points clear of Roma after a nice, well-fought match. I must congratulate all 22 players out there. Either way, there’s still a long way to go.”
For Roma coach Spalletti this result means Juventus “can be more relaxed going into their coming league matches”. “We’re going to have to be excellent if we want to make up the lost ground,” he reminded his boys.
He added: “(It leaves us) in a bad place, despite all the pressure we piled on at the end. We needed to come here and get a result. This makes everything that much trickier. They were better than us on the day. We have to accept the result because they showed they were better.” IANS