Lorenzo Insigne scored his 100th goal for Napoli to earn his side a 1-0 win over Juventus in Saturday's Serie A clash, easing some of the growing pressure on boss Gennaro Gattuso.

Juve had won their last three top-flight games by the same 2-0 scoreline but their title prospects took another dent with defeat to a spirited Napoli side at Estadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Giorgio Chiellini marked his landmark 400th Serie A appearance by giving away a penalty that was put away by Insigne for what proved to be the only goal of the contest.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata went close to equalising but the visitors, who beat Napoli 2-0 in last month's Supercoppa Italiana, could not find a way through.

Napoli were already without a number of key men and lost first-choice goalkeeper David Ospina to injury in the warm-up, meaning a late call-up to the side for Alex Meret.

The hosts were fortunate to see Federico Bernardeschi balloon a promising chance into the stands but they took the lead 31 minutes in through Insigne's powerful penalty.

Chiellini jumped with his arm and caught Amir Rrahmani in the face, which VAR adjudged was worthy of a spot-kick, and Insigne did not waste the chance to bring up his century.

Juve, who had not conceded in their previous three Serie A games, should have been level early in the second half but Ronaldo fired straight at Meret from close range.

Meret was also equal to Federico Chiesa's drive and Morata had a goal ruled out following another Chiellini foul on Rrahmani in the build-up as Juve continued to press.

A final chance fell Morata's way late on but he could not get the better of inspired Napoli keeper Meret, who produced a fine save with his legs to help his side to a huge win.
 

Antonio Conte has apologised for his actions during Inter's Coppa Italia exit to Juventus, saying he should have "reacted differently" after he was "insulted".

The Inter coach, previously in charge in Turin, aimed an insulting gesture at Juve chairman Andrea Agnelli as the pair traded comments at the Allianz Stadium.

The Bianconeri earned a goalless draw to advance to the final 2-1 on aggregate, but Conte was apologetic when revisiting the incident ahead of Inter's Serie A meeting with Lazio on Sunday.

However, the former Italy boss, who said after the game Juve "need more sportsmanship and respect", suggested he was insulted first.

Conte said: "I want to only talk about football during the press conference, so I will say this before we begin: I am here to apologise.

"I reacted in the wrong way to being insulted. I could have reacted differently and that would have been more positive.

"I am sorry and I will learn from this for future reference. The insults and provocation should not be an excuse, because I still shouldn't have responded like that.

"Everyone saw what happened; that is important to me.

"However, we as coaches, players and presidents are meant to set an example and therefore I should have reacted to insults and provocation in a different way - perhaps with a thumbs up or applause, to show I could hear what was being said, but it would've been a more positive response.

"Having said all that, now we should concentrate on the game. People want to talk about football, not gossip."

Real Madrid are considering a move for Kalidou Koulibaly, while Manchester United are targeting Jadon Sancho in a cut-price deal.

Amid uncertainty over Sergio Ramos' future at Madrid, the LaLiga giants continue to be linked with centre-backs.

They seemingly have plenty of options – and Napoli star Koulibaly is among them.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID LIKE KOULIBALY

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane likes Napoli defender Koulibaly, according to AS.

The report says Bayern Munich star David Alaba, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is still Madrid's first option.

With Ramos potentially leaving when his contract expires at campaign's end, AS also says Villarreal defender Pau Torres and Sevilla's Jules Kounde will be expensive.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United opted not to sign Borussia Dortmund star Sancho ahead of 2020-21, and it could pay off. Eurosport reports United could land Sancho for just £50million (€57.1m) in the next transfer window. The Bundesliga club were demanding about £100m (€120m) for Sancho last year.

- Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Florian Neuhaus is seemingly attracting plenty of interest. Kicker reports Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, Manchester City and Juventus are interested in the three-time Germany international.

- Arsenal look set to strengthen ahead of next season. The Sun reports they are close to finalising a deal for 18-year-old Sporting CP forward Tiago Tomas for £20m (€22.8m).

- On loan at Real Betis from Barcelona, Emerson may not return to Camp Nou. CalcioMercato reports Milan are considering a move for the right-back.

- Former Milan and Chelsea forward Alexandre Pato will join Orlando City on a one-year deal, according to Fabrizio Romano and The Mane Land. Pato has been without a club since leaving Sao Paulo in August last year.

Andrea Pirlo feels sorry for friend and former team-mate Gennaro Gattuso, whose job is hanging by a thread ahead of Napoli hosting Juventus.

Sixth-placed Napoli welcome the Serie A champions on Saturday with reports suggesting Gattuso's spell as head coach could be over if they suffer an eighth top-flight defeat.

Gattuso came out in bullish fashion when asked about his future after his team were defeated 3-1 by Atalanta in their Coppa Italia semi-final on Wednesday.

He insisted it was the club's hierarchy who must answer any questions over his future.

Juve, meanwhile, reached the final by beating Inter 2-1 on aggregate, with Pirlo joking he was now 'Allegriano' after deploying a defensive style in the 0-0 second-leg draw and their last league victory over Roma.

"It's part of our job, but we are always minded to do our best," Pirlo said about Gattuso.

"The games are important, then it can happen that there may be some difficult moments.

"I'm sorry for Rino's situation, but I have to think about my problems. We want to do well and are trying to win games."

Napoli will have their work cut out against Juve, who have not conceded a goal in three consecutive Serie A games, their longest streak since reaching six in a row under Massimiliano Allegri in December 2018.

Of returning to a style previously deployed by Allegri at Juve, Pirlo added: "We faced Roma and Inter in a different way by our choice, but it doesn't mean that we will always play like this.

"These are my choices based on the opponent, but the approach remains the same - to command the game and press high. 

"It's not always possible to press high up the pitch, sometimes it is better to sit deep and let the opponents keep possession."

Juve sit seven points behind leaders Milan with a game in hand and Pirlo acknowledged it may not take as many points as normal to claim the Scudetto.

He added: "More than 80 points will certainly be needed, but compared to other years, I think it has dropped a bit due to the many competitions and the general level of the league. 

"It is difficult for a team to stay at the top all year."

Having won 2-1 in January 2020, Napoli are looking to win two consecutive games against Juve in Serie A for the first time since 2011, when they were playing under Walter Mazzarri.

Napoli have been up and down under Gattuso, drawing only one of their last 25 Serie A matches, with 15 wins and nine defeats.

The race for Premier League glory may have tipped in Manchester City's favour but Liverpool are hoping to beat their title rivals in the race for a new star midfielder.

Germany international Florian Neuhaus is the player in demand and his club Borussia Monchengladbach may not be able to hold on to one of Europe's brightest talents.

The 23-year-old is being closely monitored by five major Champions League clubs and there is set to be a battle for his signature in the off-season.


TOP STORY – GERMANY ACE NEUHAUS WANTED BY CITY AND LIVERPOOL

It is understood that Neuhaus has a €40million (£35m) release clause in his contract with Gladbach, according to German media outlet Kicker.

That means Neuhaus will have the pick of his suitors, believed to be City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Italian champions Juventus.

He has already clocked up 81 appearances in the Bundesliga and the Reds see him as a potential replacement for the outgoing Georginio Wijnaldum.

Paul Pogba's agent Mino Raiola said he will work on the future of the Manchester United star in the "shadows" amid links to former club Juventus.

Pogba's future has been a subject of discussion since Raiola claimed his client's time at United was "over" in December, prompting speculation of a possible return to Serie A holders Juve or move to LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

The World Cup winner has started 15 of United's 23 Premier League matches during his fifth season since returning to Old Trafford from Juve in 2016.

Pogba's contract is set to expire in 2022 and United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has explained an "open dialogue" about a new deal for the Frenchman is ongoing.

But after stoking the speculation over Pogba's in the past, Raiola now wants to keep the 27-year-old's business behind closed doors.

"Pogba must also be left alone," Raiola told tuttomercatoweb.com

"When I speak people get nervous, he doesn't sleep at night, so I don't speak anymore.

"I will do what I have to do not in front of you, but in the shadows, as I always have."

Pogba has been in inspired form since the New Year, scoring a pair of crucial winning goals in away games against Burnley and Fulham in the Premier League.

However, Pogba limped off in the 39th minute of United's last outing against Everton with a thigh injury and has been ruled out for "a few weeks".

Leonardo Bonucci admitted an attention-grabbing exchange between Inter boss Antonio Conte and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli was "bad" but stressed it was in keeping with the heat of battle.

Conte and Agnelli clashed on Tuesday during the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final in Turin, a match that ended 0-0 to see Juve prevail 2-1 on aggregate.

Footage appeared to show the ex-Juve boss making a gesture that was reportedly towards Agnelli, who could be heard on a pitch-side microphone making comments aimed at the touchline following the end of the game.

Speaking to RAI after the draw, Conte said Juventus should "tell the truth" over what unfolded, adding: "They should be more polite in my opinion. They need more sportsmanship and respect for those who work."

Juventus defender Bonucci understands that while those involved in top-level football must set an example to the audience watching on, it is not always easy to stay calm in such high-pressure situations.

"There is little to add, the images speak clearly," Bonucci said in an interview with Sky Sport Italia. "What happened is bad, but it is not up to me to judge why it happened or what had to be done.

"Obviously we must always be an example, but sometimes it is difficult. When you step onto the pitch the environmental situation does not make you think.

"In some moments, adrenaline and tension make you become something different than what you would like to be, episodes like this happen, amplified by the empty stage with the sideline microphones that can transmit a sneeze."

Juve had won the first leg 2-1 at San Siro, having previously lost 2-0 at the same venue in January when going up against the Nerazzurri in Serie A action.

Bonucci points to that league defeat as a turning point for the reigning champions of Italy, as Juventus have not lost in seven games since that setback. Their reward for progressing in the Coppa Italia is a final showdown with Atalanta, which takes place in May.

"It represents a small step towards another goal, which is to bring home the trophy. It will be difficult, because Atalanta have been one of the best Italian teams for several years, they have also shown it in Europe," the defender said.

"It will be an unprecedented and complicated final, but there will be the desire to take home the cup.

"For the group it is yet another confirmation that after the match in Milan with Inter something different has taken place in us as a team and as individuals and this bodes well."

Juve switch their focus back to Serie A this weekend, though Bonucci is an injury doubt for Saturday's game away at Napoli due to a muscle issue.

Midfielder Arthur also appears set to miss the fixture after the club revealed he has "the presence of a post-traumatic calcification at the level of the interosseous membrane" in his right leg. The Brazilian will be monitored on a daily basis, though it is unclear when he will return to action.

"I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket."

Christian Vieri is regarded as one of the greatest strikers to have played football.

Once the most expensive player in the world, the former Italy international won titles with Juventus, Inter, Lazio and Torino, while he claimed numerous individual honours – the Pichichi Trophy and Serie A Footballer of the Year to go with his FIFA 100 selection and other awards.

But it could have been a lot different for the cricket-mad 47-year-old after growing up in Australia – a far cry from his birthplace in Bologna.

"My whole family is a soccer-team family," Vieri, who also played for Milan, recalled to Stats Perform News. "My father played, I played, my grandfather, my brother. So when my father at the end of his career in Bologna, they asked him if he wanted to go play in Sydney with Marconi. He said yes and the whole family moved there. He played for some time and coached there. We all went with him. 

"I think I was about four years old and I stayed 10 years there, till about 14. I grew up there. It was good. Growing up with the kids, for me it wasn't strange. Now, if you tell people, it's a bit strange that I grew up in Australia but when I was there it was normal – going to school, playing soccer, playing cricket, playing different sports. I was a big fan of cricket. Even if we were 13-14, we would go watch Australia play Test matches, ODI matches in Sydney. I'm a very big, big cricket fan."

"I just love playing," Vieri said. "I was probably playing more cricket than soccer at school. You know what we would do? The tennis ball, we would tape it up to make it go faster and swing. I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket. I was an all-rounder. I was really good. 

"You know what happened now? Two months ago before the second coronavirus wave, I spoke to someone from the cricket association, I'm going to start playing in March, April. It's a small thing in Italy, in Milan there is a cricket team. I spoke with the Italian cricket captain. They said listen, when you want to play with us, just come. I said listen, one thing is playing with a tennis ball when you're 14, one thing is playing with professionals. I want to come three or four days, train with you guys and see how it is. 

"I just love the game. I watch all the West Indies' games – Viv Richard, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner, all those guys. I would watch Australia but in those days, the Windies were too strong for everyone. I'm on YouTube a lot watching cricket. My wife always says 'what are you watching? what is this?', three hours a day watching games from 1984 and 1986, and she is going 'what is wrong with you, why aren't you normal?' I say to her, 'listen, I grew up there, these are the days I was there following cricket'. She takes the p*** out of me. Pakistan had Imran Khan, I know the players. England had Ian Botham. It was fun. 

"I love the game. Couple of months when it gets a bit warmer and we can start to go out a bit easier, I would like to go training with the Italian team, see how fast the ball really comes at you, with your pads and everything. I think it would be a good experience."

So, as Vieri prepares to dust off his pads and helmet in Italy, who would he compare to in the current era of cricket?

"I think Chris Gayle from West Indies. I'm a left-hander," he added. "When I used to play, I'm not a Test match guy, I want to smash the ball outside the stadium. I think I would've been good."

And if Vieri remained down under in Australia, rather than returning to Italy at the age of 14, would he have opted for cricket over a football career?

"Cricket, soccer or tennis," Vieri, who retired in 2009, responded. "I play paddle, I play tennis for 30 years. I like tennis too because it's an individual game – it only depends on you."

Vieri went on to make 49 appearances for his beloved Italy, scoring 23 goals (ninth on the all-time list) following an international career spanning eight years between 1997 and 2005.

He made two trips to the World Cup in 1998 and 2002 – his nine goals across the two major tournaments a joint national record alongside Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio, while he also featured at Euro 2004.

While Vieri joined forces with the likes of past greats Paolo Maldini, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pirlo for the Azzurri, his younger brother Max followed a different path.

Max Vieri, who was part of Juve's youth team before going on to play for Napoli in a notable spell, opted to represent Australia.

A midfielder, Max earned six caps for the Socceroos, but Christian Vieri never considered wearing the green and gold.

"I had two dreams when I was in Sydney playing and I was only 12, 13, 14, so you're going to school playing soccer. That's why I left Australia when I was 14 – my two dreams were to play in Serie A and for the national team – the blue jersey," said Vieri. "I remember in 1982 when Italy won the World Cup – Paolo Rossi and all those big players – I had it stuck in my head that I wanted to become an Italian player. When I was 14, I started breaking my dad's head about going to play soccer in Italy.

"When I started playing for Marconi, I started left full-back and then after I while, I said to the coach 'put me up front' and that's it, I was scoring goals and that's how everything started. My brother wanted to play for Australia always and I just had my dream to play the World Cups with Italy."

"I think the Australian team has done well in the last 10-15 years World Cup-wise and qualifications," he added. "They've done good. Of course when I was there – the big sports were AFL, rugby league, cricket – football wasn't the main sport but I think it's getting bigger. The evolution of football around world is just so big now, so much money behind it. When I was there, we were playing soccer and it wasn't the main sport but the passion we have and the kids have, it was bigger than the other sports."

Vieri's choice to chase his dream in Italy proved a wise decision, winning the Scudetto with Juve in 1997 before joining Atletico Madrid after just one season in Turin.

An incredible return of 24 goals in as many LaLiga matches for Atletico, and 29 from 32 appearances across all competitions in 1997-98, led to head coach Radomir Antic famously saying: "Vieri dead is better than any other attacker alive".

"We had a good relationship. I won the goalscoring award. I was a bit crazy those days. I would go out a lot. He would always say don't go out too much, train," Vieri recalled. "He knew I wanted to go back to Italy after about seven, eight months. He said, 'where are you going? you are going to stay here, LaLiga is your competition. You stay here and you just train a little bit, you score 50 goals a year with a cigarette'. I said yeah but I wanna go back home. 

"I think it was the best experience in my life playing in the Spanish league. It's the best quality league. There is so much technique and the way all the teams play, they all play to win. A lot of ball possession. Those days, you had to be really good to play. I had an amazing season."

Like his time at Juve, Vieri's spell with Atletico was brief as he returned to Italy via Lazio in a €25million deal the following season.

After 14 goals in 28 appearances and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup triumph in the Italian capital, Vieri became the most expensive player in the world when he reunited with former Juve boss Marcello Lippi at Inter, who splashed out €49m to partner the Italian with Brazilian great Ronaldo.

"The thing is that, if you play in Spain, Italy, England – they're the biggest competitions, so you can't block it out," Vieri said when asked about the pressures of being the world's most expensive player. "Automatically, from being normal to 100 times of pressure on you because 90billion Italian lire in those days, the player who cost more than anyone, every game you play you're judged… even more than before. 

"At Atletico, I was sold to Lazio – big scandal came out – then when I went to Inter for 90b [lire], the world went crazy. From Lazio, moving to Inter, going to play at San Siro, it's a heavy thing because San Siro – the biggest players in the world have played there, 85-90,000 people judging you all the time. They whistle if you don't play good. They've seen everyone. 

"When I went there, I said to myself, 'Bob, first game is at home, when I went to camp, in a month and a half, your first game is at home and whatever happens, you have to go score in that game. if you score in that game, you're gonna fly'. I trained a month and a half in camp, I wouldn't go out anywhere. First game, I scored three goals at home, 90,000 people went crazy. Took a lot of pressure off my shoulders that first game. Here they call me Mr. 90m guy, even today. It's a thing you're gonna call you that for the rest of your life."

Now, Vieri watches the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe bang in the goals across Europe. 

How would he fare in 2020-21?

"I think it's easier to score these days because there's less marking. Before, football, first thing was not to concede, in Italy league at least," Vieri said. "It was probably the hardest league in the world in those days. All the biggest players in the world were there. We started the competition where seven teams were trying to win the league, not one or two but seven big teams with big, big players. If we would shoot twice in 90 minutes, we were happy. Those two shots, we would score one goal, we had to score once. 

"Today, the game has changed. The defenders don't mark as much, they play. They're more like midfielders, you have to play with the ball at your feet – the whole team have to attack. Now you have 15 strikers who score more than 20 goals. It's fun to watch still but changed a lot."

Popular on social media and Italian television in his post-playing days, Vieri has ventured into coaching as he works to complete his UEFA A and B license alongside the likes of former team-mates Del Piero and De Rossi.

"All of us, the former players, when we talk about things, we only miss one thing – staying together and training... having fun. The everyday stuff. The dressing rooms, we had the craziest dressing rooms, people. Taking the p*** out of everyone 24/7. 

"I speak with all my ex-team-mates. It's just fun. Now, I'm doing the coaching course… We just laugh, we have fun. We are doing UEFA A and B together. The way we talk to each other, it's just like back in the days. With a lot of former team-mates, we play paddle ball here in Milan. When we can, we hang out."

"The first thing is you need a license to coach. It's very hard, it's not easy. When you're doing two courses together because the federations asked UEFA if just the top 10 players could do it, so we're doing it," added Vieri, when asked if he was eyeing a coaching career.

"We'll see what happens. If I have a nice project, anything can happen. 1,000 of doors will open like I always say."

Antonio Conte was left fuming over a heated post-match exchange with Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli following Inter's Coppa Italia semi-final exit.

The Milan-based side were held to a tense 0-0 draw in the second leg at the Allianz Stadium as the Old Lady advanced to the final, 2-1 on aggregate, before ugly scenes allegedly erupted following the final whistle.

Media outlet RAI reported that Conte made an insulting gesture towards his former employer Agnelli at half-time, and the Juve chief retaliated by verbally abusing the Inter coach as the teams left the field.

Conte criticised his former club's behaviour in his post-match interview but stopped short of pointing any fingers.

"Juventus should tell the truth," Conte told RAI. 

"I think the fourth official heard and saw what happened throughout the match.

"They should be more polite in my opinion. They need more sportsmanship and respect for those who work."

Conte coached in Turin between 2011 and 2014 and led the Bianconeri to three Serie A titles before taking up a role in charge of Italy after the 2014 World Cup.

The 51-year-old was questioned on the incident in his post-match news conference but he refused to elaborate.

"What happened at the end of the game? I have neither the desire nor the pleasure to comment on anything," Conte said.

"I think that in all things there must be education. Enough."

The competition's most successful club, Juventus, advance to the final to face Atalanta or Napoli, as Andrea Pirlo's side search for a 14th Coppa Italia triumph.

Andrea Pirlo was happy to go back to the future to seal a place in the Coppa Italia final for Juventus at Inter's expense.

Juventus played out a 0-0 draw in Tuesday's semi-final second leg, meaning Cristiano Ronaldo's double in the 2-1 win at San Siro last week proved decisive.

Pirlo has tried to bring in an expansive passing style at Juve this season with mixed results, but the sight of black and white shirts soaking up pressure with ease in front of Gianluigi Buffon evoked memories of the years under former bosses Massimiliano Allegri and Antonio Conte - the latter now cutting  a frustrated figure in the Inter dugout.

"It's very nice," Juve head coach Pirlo told Rai Sports of the comparison.
"If I have to win what he won, you can also call me 'Allegriano'.

"We were very good, they almost never shot on goal."

Pirlo hailed Samir Handanovic as the best player on the field and the Inter goalkeeper made a couple of stunning second-half saves to thwart Ronaldo.

A final awaits against Atalanta or Napoli, who Juve beat in the Supercoppa Italiana to claim the first piece of silverware of Pirlo's embryonic coaching career.

"It was in my plans to win the Supercoppa and get to the Coppa final, but there is work to be done," he added.

"As a coach it is completely different. We are satisfied so far but we have not done anything yet."

Juve have reached the Coppa Italia final in six of the last seven seasons, failing to do so only in 2018-19.

Pirlo's Juve are unbeaten in 11 of their 12 games since the start of 2021 in all competitions, having won 10 of those matches (D1). 

Meanwhile, Juventus are unbeaten in nine of their last 10 matches against Inter in all competitions, winning six games (D3). 

After turning 36 last week, Cristiano Ronaldo felt compelled to remind fans that he cannot go on forever.

"I'm sorry that I can't promise you 20 more years of this," said the Juventus star, who looks every inch a man that could quite comfortably play professional football into his mid-fifties. "But what I can promise you, is that as long as I keep going, you'll never receive less than 100 per cent from me."

That much would never be in doubt from a man who, blessed with talent as he is, has built an extraordinary career on a foundation of boundless ambition and unyielding endeavour. He brings to mind Brad Pitt's turn as Achilles in Troy, the war-seeking warrior-hero who wins a skirmish singlehandedly before, abs a-glistening, he proclaims to a prisoner: "I want what all men want. I just want it more."

Achilles, as this version has it, knew Troy would bring about his death in a blaze of glory. Ronaldo, too, can already sense time's winged chariot hurrying near.

Which brings us to Gianluigi Buffon.

Juve's veteran goalkeeper, who celebrated his 43rd birthday less than two weeks ago, has for so long defied convention when it comes to a footballer's longevity. Even keepers rarely keep playing beyond the age of 40 and certainly not for Europe's grandest teams.

Buffon is not Juve's first choice these days, of course, but he remains the cup stand-in for Wojciech Szczesny and he duly kept his spot for Tuesday's Coppa Italia semi-final second leg with Inter. It was a day to celebrate, too, as a goalless draw earned him club clean sheet number 288 of his Juve career and sent his team into the final 2-1 on aggregate.

The game also showed why head coach Andrea Pirlo would do well to consider how much more his old friend has to offer.

A resolute defence meant he only had two saves to make throughout; in fact, the only time Juve looked especially anxious was when Buffon had the ball. There was one pass under pressure that went straight out for a corner, another in the second half that let Lautaro Martinez drive into the box only to foul Buffon after a heavy touch. There were three attempted punches while under pressure from Romelu Lukaku, all of which ended with Buffon clueless as to the ball's position as he landed, then grateful that it had already bounced away, and another positional mishap on which Martinez really should have capitalised.

The contrast with Samir Handanovic - himself no spring chicken at 36 - was stark. Handanovic made four saves to Buffon's two, a couple of which were exceptional stops to deny Ronaldo, who could have killed the tie long before full-time in Turin. Commanding in his penalty area, he gave quite a different impression to Buffon, who seemed like a doddering uncle at a family wedding trying desperately to keep up with the dance moves. Indeed, had Inter's attacking players showed the same level of laser-focus as Handanovic, perhaps they could have rescued this contest.

Pirlo's Juve have become supremely difficult to beat. They have won 10 of their 12 games in 2021, the sole defeat being a 2-0 Serie A loss to the Nerazzurri. Since that game on January 17, they had won six out of six games before this encounter and conceded only one goal: a close-range strike by Martinez in the first leg that squirmed into the net when Buffon, in game number 1,100 of his club career, was too slow to get to ground.

The Bianconeri are on course for more silverware this season and Buffon will deserve any more medals he can add to his impeccable collection. He may well start the final, too - one more turn in the limelight. But there is no shame in admitting that, in the 26th year of his professional career, the time is approaching when he should graciously step into the wings.

Juventus progressed to the Coppa Italia final as they kept Inter at bay to secure a goalless draw in the semi-final second leg and a 2-1 aggregate victory.

A mistake-ridden Inter performance had given Juve the advantage in the tie and crucial away goals in the first leg.

The Nerazzurri consequently spent much of the return leg in Turin attacking in search of the goals that would turn the tie on its head.

Impressive work by Juve's rearguard ensured they never arrived and only the reflexes of Samir Handanvoic stopped Cristiano Ronaldo from sending the Bianconeri into a final with Atalanta or Napoli in more convincing fashion.

Achraf Hakimi was a constant threat down the right in the opening 45 minutes, and the game's first clear-cut chance came in the 25th minute after he was hacked down on the edge of the area by Alex Sandro.

Romelu Lukaku could not get telling contact on Christian Eriksen's free-kick but Inter's pressing continued to cause Juve problems, with the Bianconeri throwing their bodies in the way to prevent Gianluigi Buffon from being tested.

It wasn't until the 42nd minute that either goalkeeper was forced into a meaningful save, Handanovic using his legs to stop Ronaldo from squeaking an effort inside his near post.

Ronaldo was profligate in blazing high and wide just before the hour following a counter from Adrien Rabiot and Handanovic then prevented him from converting Weston McKennie's excellently placed pass with a close-range save.

The Portugal star was left looking to the heavens in disbelief after he weaved past two Inter defenders and into the area, only to see Handanovic get down to his right and turn away a fierce drive.

Hakimi lashed into the side-netting from a tight angle with better options available in the middle, his team-mates' reactions summing up a frustrating night for Inter.

Inter need to be as close to perfect as possible if they are to overcome Juventus in their Coppa Italia semi-final on Tuesday, says Antonio Conte.

Juve won the first leg at San Siro last week 2-1, with a double from Cristiano Ronaldo overturning Lautaro Martinez's opener.

Inter bounced back with a 2-0 win at Fiorentina on Friday and need a victory at Allianz Stadium on Tuesday if they are to make the Coppa final for the first time in 10 years.

However, the Nerazzurri have not been victorious away at Juve since a 3-1 triumph in November 2012, while the Bianconeri are unbeaten at home in the Coppa since a 2-1 loss to Fiorentina in March 2015.

Inter beat Juve 2-0 at San Siro in Serie A in January and Conte knows it will be a tall order for them to repeat the trick against his former club.

"We need to go out and play the game with desire and determination like we have shown in the previous two games," Conte told Rai Sport.

"We need to be braver, to build on what happened in the last game and try to be perfect because to beat Juventus you must play a game that borders on perfection.

"Regardless of victory, whoever wears this shirt has an obligation to make our fans proud, this must always be our mission.

"The best way to give the players the conviction to win the game and try to get through the round is through hard work, and preparing for the match in the right way, as we have done."

Andrea Pirlo will work to make sure Juventus do not think the job is already done ahead of their Coppa Italia semi-final second leg against Inter, a tie he says they must negotiate "at all costs".

The Bianconeri returned to Turin with a 2-1 lead after Cristiano Ronaldo's brace at San Siro last week turned the first leg on its head following Lautaro Martinez's opener.

Juve are going for a 10th successive Serie A title this season, but the Coppa has not treated Italy's dominant club quite so well of late.

They lost last season's final under Maurizio Sarri and have won the competition just four times in 26 years, those triumphs coming in four straight campaigns from 2014-15.

Pirlo is making no secret of his desire to deliver success and wants Juve to maintain their recent form, a run of six wins in which they have conceded only once and won the Supercoppa Italiana.

"The team will have to play for Juventus as we have been doing in the last few games," Pirlo told Juventus TV.

"It is the second leg of a great challenge that will give us the opportunity to go to the final, a goal that we must achieve at all costs.

"It will be a tough and difficult match, a battle; however, we are ready to face it in the best possible way.

"We have to start with the attitude of being equal, we start from 0-0. We cannot remain stuck on the result of the first leg, because everything has been reset.

"It is as if it were a final, so we must have the attitude of an aggressive team who know what they want. We have to be pretty focused because this is too important to let it get away."

Juve lost 2-0 at Inter in the league immediately before this winning run and have also suffered humbling defeats to Barcelona and Fiorentina this season.

But Pirlo feels those setbacks have only made his team stronger, explaining: "The mental aspect [is better].

"We are very positive and we believe in what we do, and this is a good starting point. We have very specific goals in mind that we want to achieve and we work on this.

"The defeats have convinced us that we can do many things. We have great quality within the whole group. We have 23 starters who can play any game and we are working on this."

Juventus are not targeting Eden Hazard, while Sergio Ramos looks set to wait for a new Real Madrid deal.

Hazard's future has become a talking point amid his struggles at Madrid since arriving from Chelsea in 2019.

But just where the playmaker could end up remains to be seen.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS NOT INTERESTED IN HAZARD

Juventus are not interested in Real Madrid playmaker Eden Hazard for now, according to CalcioMercato.

Hazard has made just 24 LaLiga appearances for Madrid since arriving ahead of 2019-20 after battling numerous injuries.

Madrid reportedly paid €100million for the Belgium international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sergio Ramos' future at Madrid is also uncertain. The defender is out of contract at the end of the season and is reportedly set to miss another two months after undergoing knee surgery. Marca says Ramos will still be without a contract by the time he returns, most likely in April.

- Changes are also expected at Barcelona at season's end. CalcioMercato reports Milan are interested in midfielder Philippe Coutinho, who has struggled to live up to expectations with the LaLiga giants.

- Barcelona and Arsenal are interested in bringing in Marc Overmars as sports director, according to Mundo Deportivo, with the former Netherlands international set to leave his role as Ajax director of football at season's end.

- After several impressive displays for Leicester City, the Premier League club are rushing to renew Youri Tielemans' contract, which runs until 2023, according to TodoFichajes.

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