Tearful Chiellini rouses Juventus

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GIORGIO Chiellini roared in delight as captain Gianluigi Buffon grabbed him by the neck.
AP

GIORGIO Chiellini roared in delight as captain Gianluigi Buffon grabbed him by the neck.

It was a fiery show of appreciation from the goalkeeper to the colossus at the heart of the Juventus defense on an emotional night at Wembley Stadium.

Chiellini hadn’t scored against Tottenham Hotspur but made the last-ditch intervention required — clearing Son Heung-min’s cross — as the clock wound down on Wednesday. It protected a 2-1 victory, secured by Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala scoring twice in three minutes, to send Juventus through to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

“We suffered,” Chiellini said after the 4-3 aggregate win. “It was very difficult. But we maintained the calm.”

On a night when it was so difficult for Chiellini and his teammates to remain composed when Italian football is still shaken, still mourning Fiorentina captain Davide Astori.

Tears rolled down Chiellini’s face amid the celebrations as he paid tribute to his 31-year-old occasional Italy teammate, who was found dead in his room before a Serie A match on Sunday.

“We dedicate it to him, not only this match but every mind on this day,” Chiellini said. “I cried many times. He was a fantastic player. ... We would like to continue with his smile in our hearts.”

The rugged image of Astori appeared before kickoff on big screens as Wembley fell silent to remember the defender.

“It was very difficult during the match,” Chiellini said, “because we had to think of the game and the outcome.”

And however raw the grief, football does eventually resume.

Juventus displayed the resolve missing in the first leg against Tottenham, evidence of the doggedness that has taken the Italian champion to two UCL finals in the last three seasons.

While Juventus collapsed in Turin to draw 2-2, it was Tottenham’s turn on home soil to throw away a winning position and become the first English team to be eliminated this season.

Chelsea and Manchester United will complete their second legs next week, but two English Premier League clubs are already through. A day after Liverpool ousted Porto, Manchester City advanced on Wednesday with a 5-2 victory over Basel despite losing 1-2 at the Etihad Stadium.

Unlike City, Spurs lacked a comfortable lead to be so relaxed. But they had chances to build one early in the second leg.

Harry Kane broke past Chiellini and rounded Buffon only to hit the side netting, while Son skewed a shot wide of the post before finding the breakthrough in the 39th minute.

When Tottenham rues its second-half capitulation, it should remember how fortunate it was to avoid losing a player and conceding a penalty in the 17th when Jan Vertonghen tripped Douglas Costa.

Juventus was not going to go down without a fight. Chiellini was going to make sure of that — the 33-year-old charged into Dele Alli to cut out his run after the break, earning a booking.

So much of this last-16 match-up hinged on brief passages of play. For Juventus that came around the hour mark.

First came the substitution and a tactical switch from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 by Massimiliano Allegri

Kwadwo Asamoah came on for Blaise Matuidi, while Stephan Lichtsteiner replaced Medhi Benatia. And it was Lichtsteiner’s cross that Sami Khedira headed on to Higuain at the far post to reduce the deficit in the 64th.

Before Spurs could regroup they were trailing, with Higuain the creator. Holding off three Spurs players, Higuain released a pass for Dybala to run onto and lift the ball over goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

“I think we conceded three chances and they scored twice,” Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said.

From a position of strength, this was a capitulation stemming from a loss of concentration and composure by Tottenham. As Chiellini alluded to, it was clear which team has won the last six domestic titles and which has gone 57 years without a championship success.

“It’s the history of Tottenham,” Chiellini said. “They always create many chances to score ... but at the end they miss something.”

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