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Villarreal hold Juventus after Vlahovic early strike

Vila-real (Spain) (AFP) – Dusan Vlahovic lived up to the hype by scoring 32 seconds into his Champions League debut on Tuesday but Juventus have work to do to make the last 16 after being held to a 1-1 draw by Villarreal in the first leg.

Vlahovic found the corner with just his second touch of the game at La Ceramica but a sensational start for Juve and the Serb’s Champions League career was not enough for victory.

Instead, Villarreal’s Dani Parejo steered in a deserved equaliser midway through the second half to leave a compelling contest in the balance ahead the return leg in Turin.

At 22 years and 25 days old, Vlahovic is the second youngest player to score on their Champions League debut for Juventus after Alessandro Del Piero made his mark aged 20.

Vlahovic was signed for an initial 70 million euros from Fiorentina in January and to huge excitement, with Juve toasting the arrival of one of the world’s most coveted young talents.

Juventus coach Max Allegri had tried to reduce expectations on Monday by insisting the striker would have to adapt psychologically and technically to the intensity of the Champions League – but Vlahovic needed less than a minute to find his feet.

It was his second goal in five appearances for Juve after he scored 12 minutes into his debut against Verona earlier this month, following a blistering 25 goals in 31 games for Fiorentina.

Juventus are realistically Italy’s last hope of a representative in the quarter-finals after Inter Milan were beaten 2-0 at the San Siro by Liverpool on Wednesday.

Juventus will be favourites to finish the job at home next month but a well-organised and disciplined Villarreal, who won the Europa League last season, showed enough to suggest an upset is far from impossible.

Nine Juventus players had not yet touched the ball when it hit the back of the Villarreal net.

Villarreal had stroked the ball back and across the pitch from kick-off but it was their ninth pass that went astray, Alberto Moreno choosing to dummy when he thought Arnaut Danjuma was behind him, only to find Danjuma had sprinted away.

Danilo intercepted and instantly drove a ball over the top, where Vlahovic had sped between Raul Albiol and Pau Torres. Vlahovic chested down and looked well-marshalled, with Torres tracking him across, but the striker fired early on the turn and the ball slid crisply into the far corner.

Half of the Villarreal team were yet to have a touch but they responded, dictating possession and tempo while Samuel Chukwueze went close, a flicked finish flashing wide of the near post.

Juventus were compact and organised while up front, Vlahovic remained a brooding presence. He held up three defenders in the area and laid back for Manuel Locatelli but the midfielder shot over.

Leonardo Bonucci, fit again after recovering from injury, replaced Alex Sandro at half-time but Villarreal finally found an equaliser in the 66th minute. Etienne Capoue held the ball in midfield and looked short of ideas, until Parejo spotted a gap and darted in behind.

Capoue lifted the ball over the top to the midfielder, who swung his left foot, a scuffed finish enough to beat Wojciech Szczesny at the near post.

The game tightened up late on as neither team wanted to risk opening themselves up, preferring to defer to the rematch in Turin.

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