Birthday boy Higuain nets 2 as Juventus beats Torino 3-1

by Associated Press on December 11, 2016 at 12:00 pm

MILAN (AP) — Gonzalo Higuain celebrated his birthday weekend with two goals as he helped Juventus to a 3-1 victory at Torino in a thrilling derby match on Sunday.

Goals from two of the best strikers in European football looked like ensuring the Derby della Mole would end with honors even. Higuain canceled out Andrea Belotti’s opener for Torino, with both scoring on their first opportunity.

But Higuain doubled his tally in the 83rd minute and substitute Miralem Pjanic sealed the result in stoppage time.

Juventus moved seven points clear of second-placed Roma and AC Milan, which play each other on Monday.

“It was a special match,” Higuain said. “We were losing, we were in difficulty but after we equalized we stayed in control and in the end we won. Winning the derby, scoring and having a good team performance was a lovely birthday present.

“Is it a message for Roma and Milan? We did our job, we had to win and we did so. What they do tomorrow is their problem.”

Juventus hosts Roma next Saturday.

There was a passionate atmosphere at the Stadio Olimpico and the home supporters were furious when Belotti was brought down by Daniele Rugani, as he was about to run clear through on goal, but the referee waved play on.

Mario Mandzukic had two chances in quick succession for Juventus but sent a free header wide and then had another attempt kept out by a sensational save from England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Belotti broke the deadlock moments later, in the 16th. Davide Zappacosta burst down the right flank and threaded the ball through to Daniele Baselli, who crossed for Belotti to head into the bottom left corner.

It was the 22-year-old Italy forward’s fifth goal in as many matches.

Higuain leveled in the 28th, running onto Mandzukic’s through ball and into the area before firing into the bottom left corner.

Torino had the better of the chances in the second half and should have retaken the lead on the hour but Marco Benassi’s effort was blocked by Mandzukic and Iago Falque volleyed the rebound wide.

Adem Ljajic also went close in the 73rd but curled an attempt inches wide of the right post.

Torino was made to pay for its missed opportunities as Higuain fired Juventus in front seven minutes from time. The Argentine controlled the ball before swiveling and firing through the legs of Torino defender Antonio Barreca and into the bottom left corner.

It was the ninth goal of the season for Higuain, who turned 29 on Saturday. The Argentine moved up to fourth in the goalscoring charts, two behind third-placed Belotti.

Torino strove to get the equalizer but was caught out by another counterattack and Paulo Dybala’s pass sent Higuain through. Hart pulled off a fantastic save and did so again to deny Pjanic but the Bosnia and Herzegovina international tapped in the rebound.

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CAGLIARI 0, NAPOLI 5

Dries Mertens netted a hat trick as Napoli equaled its biggest Serie A away win.

Confidence was high at Napoli after ending a poor run of results with a crushing victory at Inter Milan and qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage.

Mertens opened the scoring in the 34th with a delightful swiveling shot into the far corner, and Marek Hamsik doubled Napoli’s lead on the stroke of halftime, tapping in the rebound after Lorenzo Insigne headed onto the crossbar.

Napoli started the second half as it had ended the first and Piotr Zielinski extended the visitors’ lead six minutes after the restart with a powerful effort into the bottom left corner.

Napoli was running riot and Mertens doubled his tally in the 69th before completing his hat trick three minutes later.

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OTHER MATCHES

Atalanta fell to its second straight defeat as it surprisingly lost 3-1 at home to Udinese.

Defeat at Juventus last week had ended a run of seven successive wins but Atalanta was expected to get back on track.

Atalanta dominated but Duvan Zapata gave Udinese an unexpected lead — completely against the run of play — on the stroke of halftime.

Jasmin Kurtic leveled but Seko Fofana restored Udinese’s lead in one of its rare attacks and Cyril Thereau sealed matters late on.

Atalanta remained sixth while Udinese moved level on points with 11th-placed Inter Milan, which hosts Genoa later.

Elsewhere, Sergio Pellissier scored his 100th Serie A goal to help Chievo Verona beat bottom club Palermo 2-0, and Bologna drew 0-0 with Empoli.