Gonzalo Higuain celebrates his winning goal for Juventus at Inter Milan. (Getty)
One of the wildest nights in Serie A history began and ended like almost any other Italian night over the past seven years. It began and ended with Juventus in control. But only after the kings of calcio seemingly perished, then came back to life. And only after insanity.
Gonzalo Higuain’s 89th minute winner against 10-man Inter Milan kept Juve on course for yet another Serie A title. It sent the Old Lady four points clear of Napoli at the top of the league. It capped off a dramatic comeback that shouldn’t have been necessary or possible.
Then again, anything seemed possible on Saturday at the San Siro.
The evening began with Juventus superior. And it began with the conspiracy theorists out in full force; with Juve on the right end of controversial refereeing; and with an air of inevitability about the continued reign of the six-time defending champs.
It began with a goal for Juve and a VAR-awarded red card for Inter. With a vintage Juve performance, the right mix of aggressive and sturdy. With a 1-0 halftime lead for the visitors, and seemingly without a route back into the game for the hosts.
But over 30 minutes that might ultimately have been recognized as the end of an era, amid a cauldron of San Siro noise, Inter turned the game on its head. Mauro Icardi equalized shortly after halftime:
Thirteen minutes later, Ivan Perisic beat Juan Cuadrado on the left wing, and created a goal that had disbelieving Napoli fans jumping for joy down south. Even a draw would have put the insurgents in control; it would have ripped the title race out of Juve’s hands. Suddenly, Inter was on course for more than a draw; it was on course for a remarkable win.
Inter had been so definitively second-best in the first half after Matias Vecino’s 18th-minute red card. It fell back into a 4-4-1, with Icardi isolated up top. Juve’s pressure prevented the hosts from supporting the Argentine striker, and left them pinned back in their own half.
Incredibly, the game’s tide turned after halftime. Rafinha and Marcelo Brozovic were immense in midfield. The goals were perhaps a bit fluky; the turnaround, given the circumstances, wasn’t. Ten minutes from time, it was Juventus, despite its man advantage, that didn’t appear capable of conjuring one goal, much less two
But with the game petering out, Cuadrado pegged back Inter at the other end. His cross deflected past Samir Handanovic from a tight angle.
Higuain completed the turnaround two minutes later. He left Inter – which needed a win to bolster its top-four charge – stunned.
When the shock wears off, there will be widespread complaints about several key moments. Vecino was originally shown a yellow card for a borderline tackle on Mario Mandzukic before VAR controversially turned yellow into a red. The sending off, of course, changed the game.
Referee Daniele Orsato very easily could have leveled matters in the second half when Miralem Pjanic, already on a yellow, barged into a lunging Rafinha. Orsato again reached for his yellow, but instead brandished it in the face of an Inter player for complaining. Pjanic got off the hook. In the 87th and 89th minutes, so did Juve.
The Bianconeri still must go to Roma in two weeks for another stiff test. They have looked uncharacteristically fragile in defense over the past month, and have by no means locked up a seventh consecutive Scudetto.
But for now, they are out of the woods. Unbelievably, they are still on top, and will be even if Napoli wins Sunday. A wild night in Milan could have been the setting for their downfall; instead, it was a scene reminiscent of so many other, less dramatic triumphs over the years. The king, for now, is still in power.
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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.
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