As Juventus win fifth title in a row, Del Piero and Zoff pay tribute – but Napoli legend Maradona isn’t happy

Argentinian claims bias against his former side

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 10:40am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 10:40am

Club legends Alessandro Del Piero and Dino Zoff hailed Juventus after the Turin giants’ record-equalling fifth consecutive Serie A title on Monday, although former Napoli legend Diego Maradona was not amused.

Juventus, emulating their feat of 1935 when the Turin giants won a fifth straight title for the first time, went 12 points clear of Napoli with a 2-1 win at Fiorentina on Sunday.

Napoli had to beat Roma on Monday to maintain their slim hopes of snatching a first scudetto since 1990 when Maradona was still in his pomp at the San Paolo.

But Maurizio Sarri’s men were stunned when Radja Nainggolan hit an 89th-minute winner for Roma in the capital to hand the title to the Old Lady of Turin.

Del Piero, who still holds records for the biggest number of goals (290) and appearances (705) for the club, posted a message on Twitter which read: “You are part of history. This is Juventus. Well done lads!!!”

The claim that Juventus benefit from favourable refereeing decisions still exists in Italy, and their 2-1 win in Florence did little to dispel it.

Referee Paolo Tagliavento ruled out a perfectly valid goal from Fiorentina striker Federico Bernardeschi, prompting an outburst from Maradona on Monday.

“Fiorentina’s goal... was a scandal, a scandal,” the Argentine told the In Casa Napoli programme.

“I was watching on television and the Fiorentina goal was cancelled because they were playing against Juventus.

“Juventus have great players in the Italian [football] federation and in the refereeing body, but this is nothing new.”

Nevertheless, Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon required no help when he made a last-gasp penalty save from Croatian Nikola Kalinic.

It capped a sterling season for the 38-year-old shot-stopper, who throughout an incredible career has experienced the lows of relegation to Serie B due to Juve’s role in a vast match-fixing affair as well as the highs of being part of Italy’s most successful club on the domestic front.

Last month Buffon set a new Serie A record for going unbeaten 974 consecutive minutes, surpassing the previous record of 929 minutes held by former AC Milan keeper Sebastiano Rossi.

“He’s had a great season,” said former Italy and Juventus legend Zoff.

“Even though we’ve come to expect that from him, he [Buffon] had a crazy championship. Even yesterday he saved the team with a great penalty save.”

Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri, who was rumoured to be close to the exit door last autumn following a disastrous start to their title defence, underlined the champions’ impressive comeback.

“I always say that you can only improve by enduring the hard times. Looking at our season, it makes me even more proud,” said Allegri, who steered Juventus to their first league and Cup double in 20 years in his first season in charge last year, as well as a first Champions League final appearance in 12 years.

“Serie A isn’t the final of the 100 metres, but a marathon. You need patience to find the right rhythm.”

Defender Leonardo Bonucci, who was seen soaking fans with champagne as they waited at the gates of the club’s Vinovo training ground, told Sky Sport: “They had us dead and buried in October, but Juve never die.”

Napoli travelled to Roma on Monday – a national holiday in Italy – primarily looking for the win that would keep their third-placed hosts at bay.

But in spite of Gonzalo Higuain returning from a three-match ban, the 30-goal Argentine striker was thwarted three times by Roma keeper Wojciech Szczesny as the hosts snatched a precious win in the penultimate minute of regulation time.

Despite his claims of bias, Maradona admitted Juve’s quality had made a significant difference.

“When Sarri looks at his substitutes’ bench, he just didn’t have the same quality of players as Allegri. That made the difference.

“Even if Napoli played better football, you have to tip your hat. Juve have a great coach, a great squad, and the club knows how to go about their business.”