by Terry DALEY / AFP
UDINE, ITALY – Cristiano Ronaldo was denied a last-gasp winner to save Juventus after they had thrown away a two-goal lead at Udinese, his stoppage time header ruled out for offside in a dramatic 2-2 draw in his team’s opening Serie A match of the season.
Ronaldo started on the bench at the Dacia Arena in Udine amid rumours he is looking for a way out of the Italian giants, but he almost snatched the three points after Juve insisted he was going nowhere this term.
After the match returning coach Massimiliano Allegri played down the controversy, saying that he was always planning to bring Ronaldo on.
“Cristiano is OK… It’s the start of the season and seeing the condition everyone is in and thinking about the game, especially at the beginning I put him on the bench knowing that there would be a need for him to come on,” he told DAZN.
“He made himself available, like everyone. He played well, even scored a goal but unfortunately it didn’t stand.”
Allegri’s Juve looked to be cruising to victory when Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado put them two ahead midway through the first half.
Two second-half blunders from Juve ‘keeper Wojciech Szczesny allowed Udinese to take a point through Roberto Peryra’s penalty and a Gerard Deulofeu strike.
If Juve had any nerves following the pre-match controversy surrounding Ronaldo they didn’t show it, as Dybala prodded the away side into the lead with just two minutes on the clock.
Wearing the captain’s armband Argentine Dybala, long a favourite of Allegri’s, was then crucial to Juve doubling their lead with his raking cross-field pass finding Cuadrado in space down the right flank.
VAR denies Ronaldo
The Colombian easily beat the isolated Bram Nuytinck before drilling home an angled finish that left Udinese with if not a mountain then a steep hill to climb.
However the hosts were back in the game five minutes after the break when Szczesny brought down Tolgay Arslan after spilling the German’s shot and Roberto Pereyra comfortably slotted home the subsequent penalty.
Juve almost responded immediately through Alvaro Morata, who was picked to lead the line and whacked a header off the post seconds after Udinese had closed the gap.
Ronaldo entered the field on the hour mark to loud applause from the Juve fans and was unlucky to not restore Juve’s two-goal lead when his header from a Dybala cross flashed wide.
Bentancur then crashed a shot off the post but with seven minutes left Udinese were level in comical fashion as Szczesny produced another blunder.
The Pole dawdled on a backpass and after flapping under pressure the ball fell to Deulofeu, whose rebounded finish was eventually allowed after a VAR check.
And it was another VAR check which saved the point for Udinese, with Ronaldo wheeling away after meeting Federico Chiesa’s pinpoint cross with a trademark header only two watch on in desperation as his winner was chalked off.
There was no lack of drama in Sunday’s other early match, with Bologna beating newly-promoted Salernitana 3-2 in a match in which three players were sent off.
Lorenzo De Silvestri’s brace and a strike from Marko Arnautovic on his league debut for Bologna earned a hard-fought win for the hosts, who finished with nine men after Roberto Soriano and Jerdy Schouten were both given their marching orders.