Dybala fires Juve past depleted Porto

Juventus players celebrate with supporters after winning the UEFA Champions League football match Juventus vs FC Porto on March 14, 2017 at the Juventus stadium in Turin. / AFP PHOTO / Miguel MEDINA

Juventus players celebrate with supporters after winning the UEFA Champions League football match Juventus vs FC Porto on March 14, 2017 at the Juventus stadium in Turin. / AFP PHOTO / Miguel MEDINA

A first-half penalty from Paulo Dybala helped fire Juventus into the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday after a 1-0 win sent the Serie A champions through 3-0 on aggregate.

Porto coach Nuno Espirito Santo had hailed Juve’s 20-game unbeaten home run in Europe as he played down the Portuguese side’s chances of overturning a 2-0 first leg defeat at the Estadio do Dragao.

And the 43-year-old was right not to talk up their chances.

Despite enjoying plenty of possession in a first half that saw the hosts squander a number of chances, their bid ended when right-back Maxi Pereira saw red after handling Gonzalo Higuain’s goal-bound shot five minutes before the break.

Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan pointed to the spot and Argentinian playmaker Dybala stepped up to drill into the bottom-right corner as Iker Casillas dived the other way.

Juventus stretched their unbeaten home record in Europe to 21 games — the last time they suffered a home defeat in Europe was a 2-0 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich, in the quarter-finals, in April 2013.

However, Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri warned his side must improve, whoever they are drawn against in the last eight.

“We’ll need a different kind of performance when we come up against better sides,” he said.

“In the second half, with 11 against 10, we did the opposite of what we achieved in Oporto.”

Juventus won 2-0 in Portugal thanks to goals from Marko Pjaca and Dani Alves after Alex Telles was sent off on 27 minutes.

Nuno lamented his side’s failure to score a “deserved” goal, but said: “The expulsions in both games changed everything for us, and when you’re playing against a big side like Juventus it becomes difficult.

“They’re one of the top four or five sides in Europe.”

– Casillas record –

Allegri deployed an attack-minded 4-2-3-1 formation that saw Higuain lead the Turin giants’ attack.

But it was Dybala, whose only previous Champions League goal this campaign came in a 4-0 win at Dinamo Zagreb last September, who had the majority of the chances.

The Argentinian had spoken on Monday of his desire to add to his tally in Europe, but fired wide twice in the opening stages as the hosts set the tone.

At the other end, Brazilian Francisco Soares curled directly into Gianluigi Buffon’s arms, but it was one of too few opportunities for the visitors.

Mario Mandzukic’s header was smothered by Spanish goalkeeper Casillas, who was making a record 175th appearance in European competition.

The imposing Croatian forward went closer with a header whistling wide of the far post from a corner, before Pereira flew to save Higuain’s shot with his hand after Alex Sandro’s header was parried by Casillas.

That left the visitors a man down and Dybala made no mistake from the spot to claim his third goal in the competition.

“I felt more pressure taking the penalty against AC Milan than tonight,” said Dybala, who hit a crucial, last-gasp winner in a controversial 2-1 league defeat of Milan on Friday.

“I’m happy with the goal, but also with the win and the fact we’re through.”

Juve could have had a second goal just after the restart but Casillas produced a fine reflex save at his near post to stop a wayward header by Porto midfielder Danilo.

Minutes later Buffon rushed out to close down Soares after he escaped Sandro to fire an angled shot wide of the ‘keeper’s far post.

Allegri replaced Juan Cuadrado with Pjaca for the start of the second half and the Croatian starlet saw an angled effort spin past Casillas’s far post after he controlled well under pressure on the edge of the area.

Higuain, on 66 minutes, then fired just wide after holding off two markers in the area in what was Juve’s last real chance to add to their tally.

Turin, Italy | AFP

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