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Soccer: Juve relight scudetto fire

Last-gasp Udinese win stretches lead over Roma to three

02 December, 19:24
Soccer: Juve relight scudetto fire (By Denis Greenan) (ANSA) - Rome, December 2 - Juventus's last-minute 1-0 win against Udinese Sunday did more than enable the reigning Serie A champions to stretch their lead over early pacesetters AS Roma to three points.

The clinical and gutsy nature of the performance also showed that the Turin giants have regained their old fire.

One of the distinctive characteristics of Antonio Conte's side as they collected back-to-back scudetti last year and in the 2011-12 campaign was their great determination.

This was seen, above all, in their high tempo and ability to press opposing teams when in possession, forcing them to relinquish the ball or make mistakes.

This factor seemed to have deserted them in some games so far this season, such as when they surrendered a 2-0 lead in a 4-2 defeat at Fiorentina in October and in some European Champions League games.

Juventus started turning things round with a spirited 2-2 draw against Real Madrid and gave themselves a great chance of qualifying for the last 16 with a 3-1 win over FC Copenhagen that means they need a point from their last game at Galatasaray December 10.

On the domestic front, a 3-0 drubbing of title contenders Napoli boosted a six-win surge that has seen them reel in and overtake Roma after the Giallorossi set a new record Serie A starting record of 10 straight wins. Against Udinese the Bianconeri displayed the never-give-up mentality that Conte, formerly a tireless midfield general and captain of the club, instilled in them in their bulldozing runs to the scudetto in 2012 and 2013.

Pundits are saying the same spirit makes them favourites to three-peat.

"Juve have rediscovered the killer instinct, that crucial belief that it ain't over till the Fat Lady sings," said one commentator.

After a thrilling match in which both teams created a succession of chances batted away by goalies Gianluigi Buffon and Zeljko Brkic, Juve stole the game at the death with an emphatic header from Fernando Llorente, one of a string of closed-season signings including Carlos Tevez from Manchester City.

The former Spain and Athletic Bilbao striker headed in a skewed cross from Stephan Lichsteiner in the 91st minute to break the dogged resistance of a hard-tackling but creative Udinese side.

"Buffon should be made a saint but Brkic also had an extraordinary game," Conte said.

"It was an exhilarating match, an advert for football.

"We risked a lot by throwing ourselves in to the attack right till the end but we got our reward".

The champs prevailed despite being without inspirational playmaker Andrea Pirlo for most of the game.

Pirlo, who has pulled the strings sublimely in the scudetto-winning campaigns after being offloaded by AC Milan, took a knock to the knee in the 14th minute and was replaced by Paul Pogba.

The young Frenchman was not as impressive as he has been of late but he was helped by a typically hard-running display from Tevez up front and a predictably reliable display from Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, the hat-trick hero in the key win against Copenhagen.

Juve have 37 points from 14 games while Roma, who drew their fourth consecutive match, 1-1 at Atalanta, in a continuing slump since losing skipper Francesco Totti to injury, have 34.

Third-placed Napoli, who play Lazio at the Olimpico in the Monday-night game, have 28 from 13, while fourth-placed Inter Milan have 27 after being pegged to a 1-1 home draw in front of new Chairman Erick Thohir by an 89th goal from Sampdoria substitute Renan Garcia at the San Siro.

AC Milan feted owner Silvio Berlusconi's peace-making between his daughter Barbara and his long-time No.2 Adriano Galliani - who briefly quit after a long-simmering spat Friday - by beating Catania 3-1 in Sicily.

Seven-time European champions Milan are eighth with 17 points, 20 behind Juve.