Juventus produced an imperious second-half display to humiliate AC Milan in the Coppa Italia final, with center back Medhi Benatia scoring an unlikely brace in a match the Milan keeper will quickly want to forget.
It still sometimes seems difficult to believe, but what would once have been a clash of the Serie A titans was now more like a battle between David and Goliath. Juventus have all but won their seventh straight Scudetto, while Milan are a staggering 31 points behind them in the league in sixth place.
Sadly for Milan, this was to be no giant-killing performance, although it took I Bianconeri more than 50 minutes to get into their stride.
As might have been expected for such a big occasion – particularly an Italian one – both sides started the match rather tentatively, and the first half was a cautious affair dominated by both defenses.
Juve enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the early exchanges, yet they only carved out one clear opportunity, which Sami Khedira squandered. The German could only muster a feeble shot which Gianluigi Donnarumma gathered with ease.
Milan actually spurned a better opportunity when Patrick Cutrone shot straight at Gianluigi Buffon in the eighth minute, having been played in by Hakan Calhanoglu.
Three minutes later, Donnarumma made a comfortable save from Paulo Dybala – who, like Khedira and Cutrone before him, shot far too close to the keeper. Still, the Argentinian’s effort was more effective than his earlier attempt at a spectacular volley, which went out for a throw-in.
Mario Mandzukic wasted another presentable chance for I Bianconeri, heading a fine Juan Cuadrado cross straight at the 19-year-old Milan keeper, who was enjoying a far more comfortable first half than he might have expected.
There was some controversy at the end of the half when the referee blew the whistle for half-time, rather than awarding a free kick to Milan when Benatia rather cynically brought down Calhanoglu.
That incident was one of the more exciting moments of a tense, only sporadically entertaining first half which was littered with half chances but offered little for the neutral. It looked like it might take either an unlikely error or an even unlikelier moment of brilliance to open up an extremely tight final.
Gennaro Gattuso’s side started the second half brightly, though Giacomo Bonaventura continued a recurring theme of the first half by firing straight at Buffon. Minutes later, Bonaventura played in a dangerous low cross after outwitting Cuadrado on the left.
The first fifteen minutes of the second half were more eventful than the entire first half, with Dybala forcing Donnarumma into a fine save with a low drive in the 52nd minute. The young Milan keeper made an even better stop three minutes later, diving low to his right to push another Dybala drive round the post.
Yet the keeper’s heroics were to no avail, as Benatia emphatically headed home the resulting corner to give Juve the lead in the 56th minute.
It seemed harsh on Milan, who had more than matched the champions-elect until that point. However, poor Donnarumma’s big night soon turned into a nightmare as Juve capitalized on two bad errors in quick succession to end the match as a contest.
Although he made yet another fine diving save to thwart the excellent Dybala once again – after the Argentinian had beaten several Milan defenders before unleashing a fierce strike – the Milan keeper was badly at fault when he failed to keep out Douglas Costa’s long-range effort in the 61st minute.
Admittedly, Costa’s shot was well-struck, but Donnarumma got a hand to it and really ought to have pushed it round the post.
Incredibly, center back Benatia – not a man noted for his prolific scoring record – netted his second of the night three minutes later, capitalizing on a fumble by the Milan keeper to poke home his side’s third.
To Milan’s credit, they didn’t capitulate and could even have reduced the deficit when Blaise Matuidi came within inches of scoring an own goal in the 72nd minute. The Frenchman must have been mightily relieved to see his misdirected clearance rebound to safety off the upright.
However, any last vestige of Milan hope was extinguished when the hapless Nikola Kalinic – who had impressed at the other end of the pitch – headed past the even more hapless Donnarumma in the 76th minute.
Still Milan fought to salvage some pride, and Buffon had to make a fine double save from Manuel Locatelli and Fabio Borini. Yet by that point, the gulf in class between the two sides was all too evident – and Dybala wasn’t too far away with a brilliantly audacious effort from near the halfway line, which caught Donnarumma off his line but sailed over the bar.
Juve can now bask in the glory of what will almost certainly be their fourth Italian double in a row, while Milan will need to regroup quickly in order to ensure a top-six finish in Serie A.