Gatti snatches Juve late draw against Sevilla in semi-final

Juventus’ Italian defender Federico Gatti celebrates after scoring an equalizer during the UEFA Europa League semi-final first leg football match between Juventus and Sevilla on 11 May, 2023 at the Juventus stadium in TurinAFP

Federico Gatti headed home in the 97th minute to earn Juventus a 1-1 draw against Sevilla in their Europa League semi-final first leg on Thursday.

Youssef En-Nesyri gave the record six-time champions the lead in the first half and they seemed set to take that advantage back to Seville before Gatti’s late intervention.

Moroccan international En-Nesyri finished a sharp counter-attack in the 26th minute to break the deadlock in Turin.

Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side deserved their lead at the break and although Juventus improved, the Andalucians shut them out well in their bid to take their advantage back to the rowdy Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan next week.

However, Gatti nodded home from point blank range after substitute Paul Pogba headed the ball back into his path from a corner.

“It’s a shame, given the game that we played, that they levelled in the last play of the match, but it is what it is,” said Mendilibar.

“We stopped Juventus in every moment and we played well at times too, we have to think about that, not the last moment of the game.”

Sevilla, who dumped Manchester United out in the quarter-finals, have never been knocked out of the tournament in the semi-final stage.

The Spaniards, who won the Europa League at the Juventus Stadium in 2014, made themselves at home in the first half.

The hosts should have taken the lead when Dusan Vlahovic fired over, perhaps put off by Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou’s dive at his feet.

After that Mendilibar’s side started to impose themselves, with Lucas Ocampos playing a key role.

The Argentine winger, recalled from his loan at Ajax in January, sent a shot inches wide from close range, before making amends by setting up the opening goal.

Ocampos drove forward and played a low ball across the area, which Bryan Gil left for En-Nesyri to sweep home.

The forward has been in sensational form since the World Cup, with 16 goals in 2023 across all competitions.

“On the counter-attack we were caught out because we didn’t track back and left gaps,” Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri told Sky Sport Italia.

“(We) did well to fight back and get a deserved draw which leaves everything to play for in the second leg.”

Sevilla were dealt a blow when Ocampos limped off injured shortly afterwards, but stayed on the attack. Wojciech Szczesny tipped over an Ivan Rakitic drive from distance, while En-Nesyri curled narrowly off target.

‘It’s a pity’

Massimiliano Allegri took action, sending on Federico Chiesa and young English winger Samuel Iling-Junior at half-time in search of the equaliser.

Juventus, second in Serie A but waiting on the outcome of an Italian football federation ruling on illicit transfer activity, may end up needing to qualify for next season’s Champions League through Europa League victory.

Former Chelsea youth team player Iling-Junior cut in dangerously from the left but could not find a final ball as a more composed Juventus enjoyed more control.

It was another Juventus substitution which proved crucial. Veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci, on his 500th appearance in all competitions for Juventus, was taken off with a groin injury for Gatti after an hour.

Eventually their second-half pressure paid off when Gatti scored with virtually the last touch of the game, leaving honours even ahead of the return in Seville next Thursday.

Gatti, who also struck for Juventus in the quarter-finals against Sporting, ensured the Italians remained unbeaten at home in the Europa League this season.

Sevilla players were left frustrated as the 24-year-old centre-back nodded in after the six minutes of time added on had expired, but will have to wait until next week to set things straight.

“It’s a pity, the referee let play go on and we didn’t know how to defend the move,” added Mendilibar.

“Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes against you. If we had defended well, then nothing would have happened.”