Fernando Llorente’s 65th minute header was enough to end Juventus’ unbeaten run in UEFA Champions League group play and keep alive Sevilla’s European season on a dramatic Tuesday night at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.
The goal not only produced a 1-0 Sevilla victory it also denied the visiting Italians the top spot in Group D. Instead, Manchester City which rallied to defeat Borussia Moenchengladbach climbed above Juventus and that City victory also meant Sevilla finished third in the group so will have the opportunity to defend its twice-won Europa League title.
Juventus came into the match with four consecutive clean sheets and extended that run of perfect defense to 496 minutes before Llorente’s header. They played well on the night as they seem to be finding the best form after a slow start to their Serie A title defense at home, but the only goal went to Llorente and that means they will await the Champions League knockout draw as a group runner-up.
Before the match Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri had emphasized his desire to finish first making special reference to avoiding Barcelona and Real Madrid at the first hurdle next spring. Now that will be down to the luck of the draw.
For Sevilla it was a night of surviving early Juventus chances, then scoreboard-watching as Moenchengladbach took a lead in Manchester and appeared to be quashing their Europa League hopes. Instead everything changed in the final 10 minutes as the crowd’s attention to incoming scores from England punctuated the finish in front of their eyes.
The first chance came as early as the fifth minute when Morata headed over Rico’s goal from a good position, but the Sevilla keeper’s best moment came in the 18th minute when he parried a Stefano Sturaro header that was headed for the top left corner.
At the other end, Yehven Konoplyanka signalled his willingness to run at defenders, flashing an 18-meter attempt past the top right corner just minutes before Buffon had to make a double save to keep the home team out in the 19th minute.
Morata, goal-starved lately but given the start over Mario Mandzukic, should have scored in the 25th minute when he got in behind the defenders with Rico beaten, only to stab the close-range chance past the right post. Then Buffon was at full stretch to deny his former teammate Llorente on the half hour, holding a strong header at his left-hand post.
Rico had to keep out a Paulo Dybala free kick in the 41st minute after a Grzegorz Krychowiak foul on Paul Pogba set up a chance just outside the box on the top left. The Sevilla keeper was right back at it three minutes into the second half when he flew to his eight to beat away a Pogba drive.
Just past the hour Buffon was again called upon to dive quickly to his left post to keep out Ever Banega’s attempt to break the deadlock, this with a grass-cutting attempt from 18 meters.
The decisive breakthrough came a minute later when Konoplyanka won a corner, then Llorente got between and above defenders at the near post to head in the service from the Ukrainian. The ball lobbed over Buffon, lodging in the far corner to settle not only the match but also the European destiny of both teams.
Sevilla had turned up the pressure before the goal and continued to play with real confidence after getting ahead. Juventus was no longer finding as much space to move up front and Buffon’s goal was always vulnerable to Spanish counterattacks.
Then the biggest roar of the night came in the 80th minute when the crowd learned that Manchester City had rallied to go ahead of Borussia Moenchengladbach, giving Sevilla the result they needed.
A minute later they were gasping with relief when Dybala’s 30-yard drive cannoned off Rico’s crossbar and back into play, the best chance before Morata’s stoppage time attempt that was also turned away.