|Juventus have drawn first blood in their quest to reach the Coppa Italia final after beating Milan 2-1 at the Meazza. Martin Caceres announced his return in style by netting both goals either side of El Shaarawy’s equaliser. The second, in particular, is one that will be remembered for a long time to come by both the versatile Uruguayan defender and the travelling Bianconeri faithful.Conte stated in yesterday’s press conference that all three January arrivals would feature in tonight’s encounter. And the manager kept to his word by including Caceres, Padoin and Borriello in the starting line-up.His counterpart, Massimiliano Allegri, was still without the likes of Cassano, Pato, Boateng, Aquilani, Flamini, Merkel and Gattuso, but could count on Ibrahimovic for the striker’s last game before commencing a three-match suspension.The clash between the title contenders always looked set to be a combative affair and both sides stuck to the script by showing dogged determination from the off.
The first meaningful chance fell to El Shaarawy inside the opening twenty minutes. The former Genoa frontman collected Bonera’s searching forward pass, took the ball inside Barzagli but fired his shot wide from a tight angle.
Juventus then stepped up a gear and fashioned several opportunities of their own. Estigarribia saw his fierce left-footed effort blocked before Giaccherini, who looked bright and dynamic throughout the entire first period, drew a fine save from Amelia.
Conte’s men began the second half with a renewed sharpness and took just seven minutes to reap their rewards. Padoin drove forward from deep but saw his run brought to a halt. Borriello picked up the pieces and dispatched a low left-footed strike which was parried by Amelia, with Caceres on hand to sweep the ball home and send the visiting supporters into ecstacy.
Yet there was still plenty of life in this fascinating showdown. The Rossoneri mustered an instant fightback and Juventus had Storari to thank as he sprawled to his right to claw Ibrahimovic’s dipping free-kick away to safety.
The pendulum then swung back in Juve’s favour as Del Piero was given time and space to drive at the heart of the Milan rearguard. The striker struck a right-footed shot which whistled just past the post.
But the hosts went back on the break and made no mistake with their next opportunity. Antonini clipped in a cross from the left-hand side which Ambrosini directed into the path of El Shaarawy. The young striker was left with a simple tap-in to set up a tantalising finale.
Ibrahimovic sent Bianconeri hearts racing when he calmly slotted past Storari minutes later, but Mazzoleni had spotted a handball and awarded a free-kick to the visitors.
With the game delicately poised, Conte’s men grew in stature and put their bodies on the line to resist heavy Milan pressure. And after substitute Vucinic spurned a couple of half-chances, the winner finally arrived courtesy of a moment of individual brilliance.
As the clock ticked down towards the final five minutes, Giaccherini was set free down the left by Vucinic. The winger’s cross was headed clear by Ambrosini but only as far as Caceres who curled a delicious effort past Amelia into the top corner.
Despite Milan launching a late assault on the Juventus penalty area, the Bianconeri refused to be overcome and stood firm to record a memorable success.
MILAN 1-2 JUVENTUS
GOALS: Caceres 53, El Shaarawy 61, Caceres 83
Amelia; Bonera, Mexes, Thiago Silva, Antonini; Emanuelson (Robinho 61), Van Bommel (Maxi Lopez 85), Ambrosini; Seedorf; Ibrahimovic, El Shaarawy.
Substitutes not used: Roma, Zambrotta, Mesbah, Cristante, Inzaghi.
Storari; Barzagli Bonucci, Chiellini; Caceres, Padoin (Marrone 69), Pirlo, Giaccherini, Estigarribia; Del Piero (Quagliarella 67), Borriello (Vucinic 67).
Substitutes not used: Manninger, Lichtsteiner, Marchisio, Elia.
ASSISTANTS: Manganelli, Padovan
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Russo
BOOKED: Ambrosini 43, Mexes 47, Quagliarella 73