Fiorentina held Serie A leaders Juventus to a 1-1 draw Thursday evening in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League round-of-16 tie at Juventus Stadium in Turin.
Arturo Vidal opened the scoring for Juventus in the third minute, but after defending the lead for more than an hour, the hosts gave up an equaliser to Fiorentina substitute Mario Gomez in the 79th minute.
Though the teams are tied after the first leg, Fiorentina will carry the advantage of an away goal into the second leg. To remain alive, Juventus will have to score at Fiorentina's Stadio Artemio Franchi next week.
Thursday's first leg was the second of three between Juventus and Fiorentina in the space of 11 days. Juventus won the first, 1-0, in Serie A on Sunday. The same teams will meet again in their Europa League second leg next Thursday in Florence.
But while Fiorentina hold a slight advantage in the Europa League, Juventus are in a strong position in the league, 14 points clear atop the table. With a third successive league title within sight, manager Antonio Conte this week said Juventus will take the Europa League seriously.
"It won't be easy to go all the way in this year's Europa League, but that's exactly what we intend to do," Conte said, per Four Four Two.
Conte added: "We've got two great targets to go for—our third consecutive Scudetto and the Europa League."
As if to reinforce the point, Juventus started quickly and went ahead with only three minutes gone. Claudio Marchisio swung in a cross for Sebastian Giovinco, who chested down into the path of Vidal. To finish the move, Vidal blasted a powerful shot past Neto for a 1-0 lead.
The hosts pressed for a second goal and nearly found it 10 minutes later. But Stefan Savic made a timely interception for Fiorentina with Dani Osvaldo poised to tap in Kwadwo Asamoah's cross.
Fiorentina produced a chance in the 18th minute as Matias Fernandez picked out Nenad Tomovic on the left, but Gianluigi Buffon saved well from Tomovic's shot to keep Juve ahead. Three minutes later at the other end, Neto rushed off his line to clear before Giovinco could arrive. Neto then made a fine save to deny Vidal from Marchisio's cross in the 26th minute.
Juventus came close again in the 38th minute, when Andrea Pirlo picked out Vidal with a cross following a short corner. But Vidal's shot hit the bar and the danger subsided.
After the break, Fiorentina introduced Gomez in the 67th minute in place of the ineffective Alessandro Matri in an attempt to find an equaliser. Juventus endured a nervous moment in the 70th minute when Martin Caceres chested a Fiorentina cross toward his own goal, but Buffon reacted in time to avert the potential catastrophe.
Gomez's introduction soon paid off as the visitors grabbed their equaliser—and an away goal—in the 79th minute. After controlling Josip Ilicic's pass on the right, the German striker held off a pair of defenders and finished past Buffon to pull Fiorentina level at 1-1.
Both teams enjoyed chances in the following minutes, but neither could find a winner. Juve substitute Fernando Llorente forced a save from Neto one minute later, and Gomez fired off target eight minutes from time.
The visitors came close again in the 86th minute, but Buffon saved twice, first from Borja Valero and then from Juan Vargas, to preserve the draw.
"In all honesty, I preferred this performance to Sunday's," Conte said, per Football Italia. "Of course when you concede a goal it’s hard to justify, but I feel the team created many chances, hitting the bar as well and probably expressed better football than we saw on Sunday."
|Juventus Player Ratings vs. Fiorentina|
|Fiorentina Player Ratings vs. Juventus|
|Gonzalo Javier Rodriguez||8||8|
Juventus play at Genoa in the league on Sunday. Fiorentina host Chievo the same day.