MILAN: Juventus boosted their faltering Serie A title defence as they beat struggling Spezia 3-0 on Tuesday to move within seven points of league leaders Inter Milan.
Cristiano Ronaldo marked his 600th league appearance with his 20th Serie A goal of the season as the win left Juve third with 49 points from 24 games, within three points of second-placed AC Milan.
The Portuguese guided in his side’s third goal late on after Alvaro Morata and Federico Chiesa had struck earlier in the second half to put Andrea Pirlo’s side in a commanding position.
“The gap is just the points that separate us,” Juventus coach Pirlo, who took over at the start of the season, told Sky Sport Italia. “We know it will be a long chase, Inter have been playing together for two years, they have a well-drilled approach, whereas we just started this season. We still intend to be there right to the end.”
The Turin giants have won the last nine Italian league titles, but have it all to do to deny either of the two Milan clubs from ending that remarkable run.
The Biaconeri were still without Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Juan Cuadrado, Arthur and Paulo Dybala, who were all injured, but Morata recovered enough from sickness for a place on the bench.
Spezia looked the more dangerous side in the first half, although Ronaldo hit the post three minutes from halftime.
The double introduction of Morata and Federico Bernardeschi with half an hour remaining proved decisive, as the winger teed up the Spanish striker to score his first league goal since December within 60 seconds of coming on.
Bernardeschi was involved again as he found Chiesa in the box for Juves second goal, with the latter scoring on the rebound after his initial effort was parried by Ivan Provedel.
Ronaldo then broke upfield and scored with a composed finish in the 89th minute to seal the win, although Spezia, who remain in 16th place, — seven points above the bottom three, squandered the chance for a consolation goal when Wojciech Szczesny saved Andrey Galabinov’s penalty with the final kick of the game.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lazio’s match against Torino descended into farce as the capital club named a team and turned up at the Stadio Olimpico despite their opponents being stuck in quarantine more than 600km away in Turin following a Covid-19 outbreak.
In a bizarre repeat of Juventus abandoned clash with Napoli earlier this season, contradictory instructions from a local health authority (ASL) and the league body resulted in Lazio turning up for the scheduled 6.30pm (1730 GMT) kickoff and waiting 45 minutes before the game was officially abandoned.
Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi named a team for the game, but his players were left to amuse themselves as some danced on the touchline and others messed around with unused pitchside camera equipment as they awaited the inevitable cancellation.
“The decision by the league to not postpone the Lazio-Torino game... speaks for itself,” said Torino president Urbano Cairo, who accused the league of “ignoring reality”. “We’re going to see what happens now. It’s obvious we will appeal. We will take all possible recourse,” he added.
The situation mirrors a previous episode when Napoli were hit with a wave of Covid in October and failed to travel for a league match at Juventus.
The league refused to cancel the fixture and awarded Juve a 3-0 win, although the Italian Olympic Committee has since overruled this.
Conversely, Torino’s meeting with Sassuolo, originally scheduled for last weekend, was called off just a week ago for the very same reason.
Head of the Italian football federation Gabriele Gravina had earlier called on the league authorities to clarify their position.
“This is an act of God, there’s no way they [Torino] can play, and the league needs to get their ideas straight,” Gravina suggested.
Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2021