By Graham Hunter at the Riazor
RC Deportivo La Coruña crafted a magnificent and hard-fought 1-0 win against Juventus FC to take a slender but vital lead to Turin for the second leg of their UEFA Champions League first knockout-round encounter in two weeks' time.
With a sense of poetry not lost on the home fans in the Riazor, the solitary goalscorer in a cagey yet well-contested affair was Alberto Luque, the striker who angrily walked out of Monday's training session before apologising to coach Javier Irureta and earning a reprieve.
The match had started at a hectic pace with the respect which Juventus and their experienced coach Marcello Lippi hold for Deportivo evident at all times. The Italian side pressed the Spanish creative players – Juan Carlos Valerón, Sergio González, Luque and Diego Tristán – relentlessly, a legacy of Juve never having won in this stadium following two draws and a defeat in the last three seasons.
Despite the man-marking job which Alessio Tacchinardi was attempting on Valerón, it was the elegant Spanish international playmaker who was forging a productive partnership with right winger Víctor Sánchez. In the fourth minute Víctor's speed allowed him to nip the ball off the toes of Nicola Legrottaglie and feed Tristán. However, the Juventus defender recovered quickly enough to put in a blocking tackle as Tristán was about to shoot.
Valerón was causing mayhem, repeatedly fouled but still able to shoot at goal after stealing the ball off Tacchinardi. It was clear that Lippi's choice of a 4-3-1-2 formation was not functioning fluidly in any creative sense and the their only chance of real merit before Deportivo took the lead was Alessandro Del Piero's one-on-one with José Molina, when the Spanish keeper pulled off a brave save.
The Valerón-Víctor combination continued to operate on full gas and an exchange of four quick passes between the two men left the winger shooting fiercely across goal. Gianluigi Buffon pulled off a fine diving save but the rebound fell directly to Tristán and only a world-class defensive block from Lilian Thuram prevented him scoring.
The goal followed, however, when wing-back Lionel Scaloni's cross was dealt with inadequately by Thuram and Luque volleyed the ball powerfully past Buffon. In their fourth consecutive meeting with Juventus in the last four seasons the Spanish players clearly understood that not converting pressure into goals against Lippi's side is a fatal flaw - as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid CF and Deportivo themselves all found to their cost last season.
David Trezeguet's return from injury, sustained in the Coppa Italia, was short-lived as he was replaced by Fabrizio Miccoli at half-time after a fierce collision with Molina late in the first half. It looked like a shoulder injury. Then after Víctor sliced a good 46th-minute opportunity wide of goal, Juve's injury problems mounted when Paolo Montero walked off the pitch having pulled a groin muscle, prompting the introduction of Alessandro Birindelli.
Juve's clearest opportunities of the game came, as usual, on the break. From Miccoli's 63rd-minute free-kick, Antonio Conte flicked a header centimetres wide of the post and then Miccoli narrowly failed to tuck away Tacchinardi's superb defence-splitting pass.
At the other end, it took a fantastic save from Buffon in the 66th minute to paw away Víctor's deflected shot which seemed destined for the net. To add to Juve's woes, Conte was booked late on and will miss the second leg in a fortnight.