Higuain shows worth as Juventus, Roma start with wins


ROME: Gonzalo Higuain repaid a first chunk of his 90-million-euro ($102m) transfer fee by firing Juventus to a 2-1 victory over Fiorentina in their Serie A opener on Saturday.

It was the perfect start to the champions’ bid for a record sixth consecutive Italian title against opponents who finished fifth last season and are tipped to do better in this campaign.

Roma also got their campaign off to a strong start, thrashing Udinese 4-0 thanks to a second-half blitz at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Higuain had been left out of Juve’s starting line-up because he is not deemed to be fully match fit.

But he came off the bench to seal the three points with a strike that suggested his poacher’s brain is as quick as ever, even if his waistline has expanded over the summer.

“I’m really happy to have made my debut, for the win and for the goal,” he said.

“We have to carry on like this. It was really important to start with a win. We worked well and deserved the win.”

Higuain, who was treated to a standing ovation in the Juventus Stadium, said he had been touched by the warmth of his welcome in Turin.

“I hope I can repay the affection with a lot of goals,” he said. “I want to win as many titles as possible but there is a long way to go.”

Fiorentina’s Croatian striker Nikola Kalinic had cancelled out Sami Khedira’s stunning first-half opener for the champions.

But Higuain killed the contest with an exhibition of the predatory instincts that brought him a record 36 league goals for Napoli last season.

The 28-year-old been on the field for exactly eight minutes and 27 seconds when Khedira’s blocked shot spun across the Fiorentina goalmouth.

Higuain was first to react and he was able to squeeze the ball between Fiorentina goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu and his near post from a tight angle.

The champions had spurned a string of half-chances before Khedira fired them into a 37th-minute lead with a rocket of a header.

Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini whipped in a cross from the left and his team-mate met it at full sprint just behind the penalty spot, leaving Tatarusanu with no chance.

Fiorentina worked their way back into the contest after the break, however.

And their efforts were rewarded when Kalinic outjumped left-back Alex Sandro at the back post to nod a corner past Gianluigi Buffon in the Juve goal.

Roma sweat on Manolas

Roma’s 4-0 thrashing of Udinese was overshadowed by the sight of highly-rated Greek centre-back Kostas Manolas limping off injured three days before the second leg of the club’s crunch Champions League qualifier against FC Porto.

Roma are favourites to advance to the money-spinning group stage after a 1-1 draw in Portugal in the first leg.

But coach Luciano Spelletti’s defensive options are already limited as a result of Thomas Vermaelen being suspended after being sent off in the first leg.

Spalletti said taking off Manolas had been precautionary.

“His groin was giving him a bit of bother and there was no point in taking any risks, that is why we took him off. But everything seems okay, there is no problem.”

Spalletti admitted that Juventus look on paper to be stronger than the squad that claimed a fifth consecutive title last term.

“Everyone thinks that,” he said with a smile. “But noone wants to just give up and accept this analysis. We all have to battle hard. It will be a pleasure to try to challenge them, precisely because they are strong.”

Two second-half penalties from Argentinian midfielder Diego Perotti and late strikes from Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko and Egypt’s Mohamed Salah secured Roma’s win.