Juventus on the brink of Italian Cup final
Gonzalo Higuain scored after three minutes and Gianluigi Buffon saved a penalty as Juventus stayed on track for a fourth straight Italian Cup yesterday morning (Singapore time) with a 1-0 semi-final, first-leg win at Atalanta.
Buffon - making his first appearance in goal since turning 40 and after a two-month layoff with a calf injury - showed he was back at his best as he made his first Cup appearance since 2012.
The holders got on the scoresheet in Bergamo after just two-and-a-half minutes when Argentina striker Higuain found a way through the Atalanta defence and curled into the corner.
It was the quickest goal this season for Massimiliano Allegri's side, who are sitting in second in Serie A behind Napoli.
Atalanta thought they would level when the video assistant referee (VAR) awarded a penalty after Medhi Benatia handled in the box, but Alejandro Gomez's spot-kick was saved by the evergreen Buffon, who got down low to hold the Argentinian's driven effort to the left.
"I am glad we honoured the Italian Cup again this year," said Juventus coach Allegri.
OUT OF ACTION FOR 45 DAYS
"It's an important result, although nothing is decided until after the second leg."
Juventus could have added to the scoreline after half an hour, with two Blaise Matuidi efforts deflected over the bar.
Buffon again saved two quick-fire attempts from top Atalanta scorer Gomez after the break, tipping over the second.
"I'm happy for Gigi (Buffon), who hadn't played in the Italian Cup for five years," Allegri said.
"He hasn't forgotten everything he knew after being out of action for 45 days.
"He had a rest for a few weeks, perhaps he needed to put his feet up, but he's back now and he's our first-choice goalkeeper.
"Wojciech Szczesny did well in his absence and is a champion, but Buffon is Buffon."
Despite beating league leaders Napoli at the San Paolo Stadium to advance to the semi-finals, Atalanta could not find a way past Juventus who controlled the game.
Higuain came close late on and Buffon again saved his team three minutes from time when he blocked Andrea Petagna's point-blank shot.
Juve will host Atalanta in the return leg on Feb 28 in Turin. AC Milan and Lazio faced each other this morning in the second semi-final at the San Siro. - AFP