Rome (AFP) – Juventus were hailed as “the lions of Wembley” by the Italian media on Thursday after the Serie A side’s stunning fightback against Tottenham to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Massimiliano Allegri’s side were on the brink of elimination after Son Heung-Min’s first-half strike put Spurs ahead at their temporary home of Wembley on Wednesday.
But, despite being completely outplayed in the opening period, Juventus got back in the game after the break and equalised through Gonzalo Higuain.
That was the decisive moment as Tottenham suddenly went to pieces, allowing the Italian champions to score again two minutes and 49 seconds later as Paulo Dybala punished poor defending with a cool finish.
All three Italian sports dailies sung from the same hymn book, with the headline in both the Gazzetto dello Sport and Corriere dello Sport acclaiming “the Lions of Wembley”, while for Tuttosport Juve were simply “Lions”.
And the abiding image of a gripping game was the sight of their two aged roaring lions, 40-year-old keeper Gianluigi Buffon and 33-year-old Giorgio Chiellini, face to face, after the veteran central defender made a crucial tackle on Spurs striker Harry Kane.
On Wednesday Tottenham discovered that Juve were not old but experienced — and never beaten until the final whistle.
At home it has been Napoli who since the start of the season have looked most likely to win Serie A title, but if Juve win their game in hand against Atalanta next week it will put them at the top of the table ahead of the sprint to the line.
Juve were made to suffer at Wembley, with the first half a trial for the Italians up against the speed and youth of their English hosts.
But they never raised the white flag of surrender, despite a dugout deprived of any outright attackers in the absence of Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado, Mario Mandzukic and Federico Bernardeschi, and with stars like Blaise Matuidi, Higuain and Dybala not yet at peak fitness after recent returns from injury.
But Argentinian duo Higuain and Dybala were the architects of Juve’s escape act, as was Allegri.
“In the first leg I was criticised for my substitutions and today you are congratulating me for them? It’s the players who win matches. Me, I make mistakes and I sometimes try to repair them,” the coach said, tongue firmly in cheek.
Seven of Allegri’s team had an even tougher assignment to attend on Thursday, the funeral of Davide Astori, the 31-year-old Fiorentina captain who died of a suspected heart attack last weekend.
“We dedicate the win to him. He is on our minds on this day. I cried many times. He was a fantastic player. It was very difficult during the match because we had to think of the game and the outcome and it’s not easy. But he’s always in our heart,” said Chiellini.