Turin: Juventus secured their ticket for the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in two years after dominating a listless Atletico Madrid in an entertaining scoreless draw in Turin on Tuesday.
Juventus players celebrate at the end of the UEFA Champions League football match Juventus vs Atletico Madrid at the "Juventus Stadium" in Turin. Pic/AFP
While the Spaniards were already qualified thanks to the four-match winning run that followed their opening day defeat to Olympiakos, Juventus required just a point to qualify for the knockout phase. Coach Massimiliano Allegri had underlined his side's intention to go for a win with a two-goal margin that would allow the Turin giants to snatch top spot from Diego Simeone's reigning Spanish champions.
But despite dominating in all departments, the Italians failed to convert chances into goals. The draw means Atletico finish top of Group A on 13 points, with Juventus second on 10 and Olympiakos, who beat Malmo 4-2, finishing third on nine to drop into the Europa League. "The most imporant thing was to qualify from the group and that's what we have done," said Allegri.
"It would have been good to win with a two-goal margin and finish top of the group, but we've achieved what we set out to do." Juventus suffered a minor blow before kick-off when Claudio Marchisio was ruled out with a bout of flu and replaced by Roberto Pereyra, which forced Arturo Vidal back to the right side of midfield.
But the late change did not upset Juve's plans. Atletico were restricted to only one real chance on goal in the opening half and Juventus were allowed to move the ball around with surprising ease. But with Atletico among the tournament favourites after their 4-1 defeat to city rivals Real in last May's final, Simeone admitted his side's priority was to defend top spot.
"We're delighted to finish top of the group, especially given we've only been playing in the Champions League for the past two years," said Simeone. "The first half was very intense and we didn't have many opportunities, while in the second we closed down a bit and played on the counter-attack." Remarkably, the match finished without either side using a substitute but for Simeone it was not surprising. "It's not surprising at all. Why would it be?" he said.
After Andrea Pirlo had driven an early free-kick into the defensive wall, a poor headed clearance by Leonardo Bonucci set Atletico up for one of their few real chances of the game. Although the defender tried to rectify his error, the ball was fed to Koke to fire a low angled shot that forced goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon down low to block.
Vidal earned a yellow card before the half-hour when he pulled down Raul Garcia, leading directly to another half-chance for Atletico as Jose Maria Gimenez sent a looping header towards goal which Buffon had to tip over. Mario Suarez was then shown a yellow card moments later when he tugged at Carlos Tevez's right shoulder, and the subsequent free-kick by Pirlo from 30 metres flashed over the crossbar.
With Atletico apparently set on defending top spot, Juventus found momentum. Good build-up on the left allowed Pogba to deliver a delightful ball for Llorente with the outside of his right boot but the Spaniard's looping header was collected by Moya. A defeat would have proved disastrous for Juve and Atletico, at times, were a threat. Buffon was forced into a two-handed parry two minutes before half-time after Pogba lost control and the ball found its way to Suarez on the edge of the area.
It took Juve almost 10 minutes to fashion any kind of chance after the restart, but from 10 metres out on the left Pogba's shot was blocked after a move featuring a back-heel from Tevez. Another great build-up saw Pereyra cross inside for Tevez but after the Argentinian's short pass to Vidal the Chilean's angled shot lacked power and was easily parried by Moya.