With their Round of 16 tie in the Champions League in the balance, defeating Tottenham Hotspur in London was not going to be the easier of tasks for Juventus.
On Wednesday evening the Bianconeri won the second leg 2-1 at Wembley and triumphed 4-3 on aggregate and the player that was decisive in getting them into the quarter-finals is Gonzalo Higuain.
Although the 30-year-old has a reputation for underperforming in big games, especially in finals, this was a knock-out tie in which he rose to the occasion and demonstrated his match-winning qualities.
As soon as the first leg commenced, Higuain was already involved in the action. Miralem Pjanic was assigned to take a free-kick and he noticed that the striker was unmarked, so the Juventus playmaker passed the ball low for “El Pipita” to score with a diagonal shot.
Then the Bianconeri forward scored his second goal after nine minutes when a penalty was awarded for a foul on Federico Bernardeschi and he struck the ball to the right side of Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. He should have completed his hat-trick before half-time, but his penalty kick had hit the crossbar.
It would have given La Vecchia Signora a great confidence booster if they had lead 3-1 midway through the first leg but instead Christian Eriksen had made it 2-2 with a free-kick in the second half.
Juventus had squandered a two-goal lead in Turin and had to win or register a draw that ended 3-3 or higher three weeks later in London. Higuain’s compatriot Paulo Dybala returned from injury in the second leg but “El Pipita” showed that he was more than capable of deciding the tie himself.
Spurs dominated the first half of Wednesday’s game and South Korean international Son Heung-Min scored the first goal after chipping the ball over Bianconeri goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Higuain had not made much of an impact in the first half but a tactical switch by Coach Massimiliano Allegri in the 61st minute changed the game. Andrea Barzagli was moved from right-back to his natural position of centre-back and Medhi Benatia was placed by natural right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner.
This moved allowed La Vecchia Signora to get into the match and then Higuain made the difference for them in a three-minute spell.
Lichtsteiner received the ball on the right flank and initiated an attack. He continued running forward and received a pass from Dybala. He then crossed from the right-wing and the ball went to Sami Khedira, who flicked the ball towards “El Pipita” and he diverted the ball past Lloris.
Higuain made it 3-3 on aggregate and scored all three Juve goals but then he turned provider in the 67th minute. He received a pass from Giorgio Chiellini and had his back towards goal. Then he turned clockwise and supplied a through-ball for his compatriot Dybala to win it for the Bianconeri.
Spurs were the dominant team in terms of possession but La Vecchia Signora are the type of team to strike at the right moments. Even when things looked bleak for the Italian giants, they still possessed the ability to turn things in their favour.
For all the stars they possess, one player was needed to help them progress in the Champions League and it was Higuain who just needed a short space of time to be the decisive player in the tie.