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Pjanic stunner as Juve set-up Napoli Cup semi


Turin (Italy) (AFP) – A superb curling free-kick from Miralem Pjanic kept Juventus on track for a third consecutive Serie A and Italian Cup double on Wednesday after a dramatic 2-1 quarter-final win over 10-man AC Milan.

Milan were looking to hand the two-time defending Cup champions their third defeat in succession after following a 1-0 league win earlier in the season with Italian Super Cup victory in Doha in December.

But despite seeing Carlos Bacca reduce the arrears on 53 minutes after Paulo Dybala and Pjanic had given the hosts a 2-0 lead by the 21st minute, Milan threw away their chance of a fightback when Manuel Locatelli saw red for a second bookable offence moments later.

Juventus will now meet Napoli in the two-leg semi-finals. Inter Milan host Lazio next week and Roma host second division Cesena in the other last eight ties.

Juventus, bidding for a record sixth consecutive Serie A title, extended their unbeaten run at home to 27 games last week with a 2-0 win over Lazio, and Massimiliano Allegri’s men were in no mood to capitulate at home in the Cup. 

Despite leaving number one ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon on the bench in place of Norberto Neto, Allegri fielded his strongest side and, despite seeing several chances go amiss, could have few regrets.

An inswinger from Ghana midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah caused confusion in the Milan defence after just 10 minutes and when it was flicked on by Juan Cuadrado into the path of Dybala the Argentine had little trouble beating Gianluigi Donnarumma at the ‘keeper’s near post.

A Juraj Kucka foul on Asamoah gave the hosts a free kick 30 yards out to the left of the area and Donnarumma left just enough space at his near post for Pjanic, the Bosnian curling a weighted drive past the teenaged ‘keeper’s gloves.

Juve should have added more but Gonzalo Higuain then Dybala failed to capitalise on enticing Asamoah crosses.

Milan resumed in determined fashion, although three fouls in quick succession on Cuadrado, Pjanic then Mario Mandzukic proved decisive, Locatelli earning his first caution for taking the Colombian’s feet away moments after the restart.

Juve pressed, Donnarumma soon forced out to punch a dangerous Cuadrado cross to safety, but minutes later Milan hit back when Bacca pounced on a mis-hit clearance from Sami Khedira to beat Neto on the volley.

Hopes of a fightback dipped when Locatelli saw red on 54 minutes for a foul on Dybala, but Juve still struggled to press home their advantage.

A great Cuadrado cross found Mandzukic at the back post for a volley that was blocked and the Croat then rose to glance a header inches wide.

Milan’s chances were few and far between but on 70 minutes Neto got down low to push Kucka’s long-range drive to safety.

Juventus created a host of chances to settle the match during the remainder but late efforts from Khedira and Higuain came to nothing.

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