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Juve draws 1-1 at Villarreal in Champion’s League

VILLARREAL, SPAIN (AP) – Dusan Vlahovic needed just 31 seconds to show Europe why Juventus chose him to fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Serbia striker had a dream debut in the Champions League on Tuesday, scoring a superb goal after his first contact with the ball in a 1-1 draw at Villarreal.

His goal had the elements of strikes that only players of Ronaldo’s calibre can pull off, combining power, a sense of the moment and that extra dose of confidence that means no scoring chance, however slim, should go to waste.

After using his chest to control a long pass from Danilo, the 22-year-old striker did not hesitate to immediately take on centre-back pair Pau Torres and Raúl Albiol.

He used one touch to prepare his shot taken with his weaker right foot while he spun toward the goal. The low effort grazed the foot of a defender before squirting in at an angle past goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli.

It was his second goal with Juventus since the team secured his EUR70 million transfer from Fiorentina near the end of the January transfer window to find a top scorer after Ronaldo’s exit five months before in the offseason.

Villarreal’s Alfonso Pedraza (R) fights for the ball with Juventus’ Weston McKennie. PHOTO: AP

“It was huge to score on my debut. It was very emotional,” Vlahovic said. “However, I cannot be 100 per cent satisfied because we have not won the game.”

Dani Parejo levelled for Villarreal in the 66th minute, leaving the playoff poised for the decider in Italy with the away-goal rule scrapped this season.

After Vlahovic’s opener, Villarreal tied to respond through its speed on the flanks. Alfonso Pedraza stole the ball and sped from the left side of the box before he laid off for Giovani Lo Celso, only for his scuffed attempt to find the top of the left post in the 13th. Vlahovic also impressed with his ability to pull down more long balls for his teammates in the first half. But Parejo’s 66th-minute equaliser came just after Albiol made it his mission to start taking away that outlet.

Following Albiol’s challenge to win a ball from Juventus’ new striker, the Italian team betrayed its defensive pedigree when it gave Etienne Capoue time to pick out a run forward by fellow midfielder Parejo. Juventus’ backline compounded that mistake by leaving Parejo free of a marker as he fired low to make it 1-1.

“When they score in the first minute, it ruins your game plan. But even so, we knew how to hang in there and go for the match,” Parejo said.

“To draw 1-1 after starting from behind, I am satisfied with how we played and the chances we created against a giant like Juventus.”

Vlahovic almost conjured up the winner with five minutes remaining with a powerful shot that Rulli did well to stop.

United States midfielder Weston McKennie had to be substituted for Juventus in the 80th after he received a hard tackle into his lower left leg by substitute Pervis Estupiñán.

Juventus is trying to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2018-19 after losing in the round-of-16 in the past two seasons.

Unai Emery has Villarreal, last season’s Europa League champion, back in the knockout rounds of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in 13 years.

The Spanish team will hope to have striker Gerard Moreno, now injured, back for the second leg in Turin on March 16.


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