Juventus vs. Napoli: Winners and Losers from Italian Super Cup
Napoli won the Italian Super Cup in extremely dramatic circumstances on Monday evening in Doha, edging Juventus 6-5 in a penalty shootout after the two sides had finished level at 2-2 after 120 minutes of action.
Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain each scored twice in what was an open and exciting encounter, with Higuain's second coming with just two minutes remaining of extra time. That sent the game to penalties, where goalkeeper Rafael Cabral eventually saved from substitute Simone Padoin to give Rafa Benitez's side the win.
Here are some winners and losers from an eventful evening.
Winner: Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez's Midas touch in the cup competitions continues. The Spaniard has now reached 12 cup finals as a manager: Remarkably, he has won 10 of them.
For large parts of this contest it looked like Benitez would not be so fortunate, as Napoli twice went behind and then needed to survive two huge scares in the penalty shootout (Giorgio Chiellini and Roberto Pereyra both had chances to win the shootout) before Rafael made the decisive save from Padoin.
Benitez has now won as many trophies in his managerial career as Carlo Ancelotti and lifts this prize just as he has entered new contract negotiations with the Partenopei (whom were rumoured to be thinking about sacking him earlier in the season).
If timing is everything in football, then this win came at the perfect moment. But regardless of that, Benitez's cup record is always going to ensure he is sought after by the biggest clubs across Europe for a long time to come.
"Everyone should be happy, beating such a strong team like Juve is wonderful," Benitez said afterwards to The Associated Press (via NBC Sports). "I am happy for Rafael, I am happy for Higuain, I am happy for everyone who believed in us. It's my 12th trophy, my 10th cup, but what matters is that we won this for Naples and our supporters."
Loser: Paul Pogba
It is perhaps harsh to criticise anyone after this match, especially considering it was ultimately decided by one spot-kick in 20. You could perhaps query some of Massimiliano Allegri's decisions over the course of the contest, but ultimately it was luck as much as anything else that saw the ball fall perfectly in the box for Higuain and Napoli to steal a late equaliser and prevent Juventus from winning after extra time.
In general Juventus performed well, but Pogba was a noticeable disappointment over the full course of the contest. His brilliant individual play may have laid the groundwork for Tevez's second goal in extra time, but prior to that the France international had infuriated with some of his selfish play, as he seemed intent on single-handedly producing the game's defining moment.
Instead, more often than not, the youngster squandered great positions with his determination to take an extra touch, an affectation that only increased the pressure on his side and, over time, loosened their grip on the contest.
He did not cost Juventus this game—ultimately no individual player did—but it was a poor performance all the same.
Allegri has been noticeably less willing to rotate Pogba in and out of the side than his predecessor, Antonio Conte, was. This performance perhaps suggested that the young midfielder still has things to learn at this level and that the occasional afternoon on the bench observing could still aid his development.
Winner: Gonzalo Higuain
Gonzalo Higuain ended his recent goal drought in the most enjoyable way possible, with a brace in a victorious cup final appearance.
Unlike his compatriot Carlos Tevez, who also notched twice on the night, Higuain also scored his penalty—even if he had to ultimately wait for his goalkeeper to confirm he would be lifting the trophy at the end of the night.
The striker's lack of confidence was obvious at points during the game as he struggled with his finishing, although he was robbed of one potentially delightful goal only by bad luck when his delicate lob over Gianluigi Buffon agonisingly bounced away off the far post.
Higuain stuck to his task, however, and eventually he was rewarded. A rare brilliant cross from Jonathan de Guzman was too inviting not to turn home, producing a goal that Higuain clearly enjoyed. But that was nothing compared to his second finish in the 118th minute, when the ball fell perfectly at his feet for him to turn beyond the helpless Buffon.
Napoli will be hoping Higuain can now bring his rediscovered goalscoring touch back to Serie A matters, as the club looks to get a better grip on the race for the third and final Champions League spot. Its wish might well be granted: After a night like this, how could Higuain's confidence be any higher?
Winner: Rafael Cabral
Like Higuain, Rafael Cabral got to sample what it feels like to be a cup hero. The Brazilian goalkeeper had a fine night in most regards (he could not be blamed for either of Tevez's goals) but took things to a different level in the penalty shootout, where his heroics helped clinch Napoli's eventual victory.
Twice Rafael faced penalties that could have won the competition for Juventus, and twice he helped Napoli stay alive. The first time he made the save, denying Giorgio Chiellini's weak effort with ease, while with the second we will never know if his antics were the difference as Roberto Pereyra nervously cleared the crossbar.
After Kalidou Koulibaly—another player who enjoyed a good game, at least after recovering from an early mistake that led to Tevez's opener—then scored for Napoli, Rafael finally had a chance to make a save that would win the game rather than simply extend it.
He rose to the occasion and more—making a spectacular save from the unfortunate Padoin to confirm a memorable triumph in storybook fashion.
Few goalkeepers ever get the better of Gianluigi Buffon in a head-to-head situation. Rafael can now say he has—and he has the trophy to prove it.