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Juventus Good Enough to Get Past Lyon in the Europa League

TURIN, ITALY - APRIL 10:  Andrea Pirlo of Juventus celebrates scoring the first goal during the UEFA Europa League quarter final match between Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais at Juventus Arena on April 10, 2014 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Anthony LopopoloFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2014

The fans were loud all night. They were chanting, their voices swaying in sing-song, while Juventus kept up the fight against Lyon.

It was a 2-1 win for Juve in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final, 3-1 on aggregate. A game of few scares, a little inspiration and some luck.

Juventus have never lost to French opponents, and thus they have not yet lost in this competition. They have not lost at home this entire season. This is looking more and more like their tournament, the final of which will be played in Torino

Le tifo de la Juve. #JuveOL pic.twitter.com/tyXRJrzj1Z

— leonera19 (@leonera19) April 10, 2014

They started the game well enough, Andrea Pirlo scoring off a free-kick after just four minutes. It was wonderful, and it was the 12th goal off a free-kick in just three seasons with Juve.

Pirlo had scored eight such goals in 10 years with Milan.

He doesn’t smack it, and he doesn’t take a huge wind-up. It’s a three-step process: a couple of steps and the kick itself, the ball struck with spin and just enough power.

B/R UK

But then Juventus stopped. They didn’t surge forward or kill the game. It is something of a trend for them in 2014: Juventus often leave the game in doubt, even if the result never is.

Kwadwo Asamoah told Sky Sport Italia after the game (h/t Football Italia) that "physically we’re not in great shape, so we had to make the ball work for us."

He continued: "We are playing every three or four days, so it’s not easy."

Juventus have lost just twice over the past four months, but they have won many of those games by a single goal. And that’s the point: Juventus don’t have to play well to win.

The threat was still real. Jimmy Briand scored off a header in the 18th minute, and it was not particularly pretty. The central defenders were lost, and Briand nicked the ball just beyond the reach of Gianluigi Buffon.

And Buffon made sure Juventus would not concede another. He held his ground, diving to save a rasping shot from midfielder Maxime Gonalons.

TURIN, ITALY - APRIL 10:  Andrea Pirlo of Juventus #21 celebrates scoring the first goal during the UEFA Europa League quarter final match between Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais at Juventus Arena on April 10, 2014 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Vill
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Buffon later parried away a free-kick, giving Juventus the confidence to score a couple of minutes later. He does not make the most saves of all goalkeepers, and he does not even keep the most clean sheets, but he is always there.

Buffon and Pirlo are the protagonists of this team. Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez have scored big goals, too—but Buffon and Pirlo are the mainstays. They have shown up in all competitions.

Even the little things: Pirlo faking one way and going another, taking the threat right out of danger, playing a delicate pass out to an open teammate. He also made five interceptions—a game-high, per WhoScored.com.

Feels like Pirlo's free kicks are what kept Juve from having a very rough second part of season

— David Amoyal (@DavidAmoyal) April 10, 2014

Juventus started the second half as they did the first. Tevez missed a chance to end the game when the ball skipped past him in the box.

Then Lyon mounted one last challenge. They took back the ball and attacked in waves. But the Bianconeri did not falter. They have a great spine consisting of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Martin Caceres, and they made the important clearances.

.@chiellini: "Playing the #UEL final at home might not ever happen again in the club's history. We must seize the occasion." #JuveOL

— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) April 10, 2014

On the other side of the field, Juventus only put two shots on target. The second goal they scored came off a deflection. Mirko Vucinic was totally ineffective. He started in place of Llorente, but he misplaced 46 percent of his passes, per WhoScored.com. He doesn't get much time anywhere, and he doesn't particularly use it well.

Tevez also scored—until his header was ruled offside. He still has not found a goal in Europe since 2009, back when he scored for Manchester United against Porto. But it is not a curse that seems to affect Juventus. Finally, they will play in a European semi-final for the first time since 2003.

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