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Gonzalo Higuain

Higuain hits double for rampant Juve

Milan (AFP) – Gonzalo Higuain hit a first-half brace including a spectacular volley as Juventus warmed up for their Champions League opener against Sevilla with a comprehensive 3-1 win over Sassuolo.

Sassuolo travelled to Turin hoping to build some confidence of their own ahead of their maiden campaign in the Europa League next week.

But against a Juve side many pundits have tipped for Champions League glory, Eusebio Di Francesco’s visitors were hopelessly outclassed.

Higuain got off the mark after just five minutes, the Argentine collecting Paulo Dybala’s pass on the counter to slam the ball past Andrea Consigli for his second goal of the campaign.

Higuain, who hit a Serie A record of 36 goals for Napoli last season before his big-money move, had his second five minutes later when he smashed a superb volley past Consigli following Sami Khedira’s header back into the middle of the area.

Higuain narrowly missed a quick-fire hat-trick when, on the counter, Dybala’s cross was blocked.

But Juve were 3-0 up by the 27th minute when Miralem Pjanic, signed from Roma in the close season, collected his own rebound to slam past Consigli from close range to score on his debut.

Although Gianluigi Buffon’s blunder at a Sassuolo corner allowed Luca Antei to poke home from close range, the Turin giants’ third win of the campaign was never in doubt. 

Sassuolo host Athletic Bilbao on Thursday, and Di Francesco would be forgiven for pre-match jitters.

The visitors were behind in the tackle, lacking pace and totally outclassed throughout a one-sided encounter that allowed Massimiliano Allegri to replace Higuain with Mario Mandzukic with 20 minutes to play.

Indeed, only an official’s flag saved Sassuolo from conceding a certain third goal before the half-hour, although Khedira looked onside when Higuain flicked the ball through for the German.

– Standing ovation –

But Juve were not to be denied.

Although penalty claims were waved away when Dybala was tripped on the right side of the area, Pjanic rose to get his head to the ball when it was floated back in by Khedira.

Consigli palmed his effort off the bar, but the Bosnian slammed the rebound home from a yard out.

Juve’s wings were clipped minutes later when Buffon completely missed the ball after coming off his line at a corner, Antei poking it home to reduce arrears.

Juve breathed a sigh of relief when Higuain got back up from a knock with defender Francesco Acerbi five minutes into the restart.

But the hosts were rampant, Consigli rushing out to palm away a Pjanic effort and then watching on helplessly as Alex Sandro fired the rebound wide of the far post.

It was enough for Di Francesco to make a double substitution, but the changes had little effect.

Dybala outpaced Alfred Duncan with ease to fashion a shot from a tight angle that Consigli had to block at his near post.

After a Giorgio Chiellini header inched wide from Pjanic’s corner, only a timely intervention from Antei stopped Higuain as the striker teed up his angled drive on the right of the area.

Higuain was given a standing ovation when he was replaced by Mandzukic.

Sassuolo were unlucky not to earn a penalty for an apparent Chiellini hand ball and then Stephan Lichtsteiner saved the hosts when he cleared off the line.

But the visitors were fortunate not to suffer a far heavier defeat.

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