Milan, Italy | AFP | Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as voracious Italian champions Juventus finished 2018 on a high with a 2-1 win over Sampdoria to set a new points record in Serie A before the winter break as Inter Milan’s Senegalese winger Keita Balde scored the only goal in a win over Empoli days after the club were embroiled in a racism controversy.
Ronaldo curled in the opener after just two minutes in Turin adding a second from the penalty spot on 65 minutes, putting the Portuguese top of Serie A’s scoring charts on 14 goals.
Fabio Quagliarella pulled the Genoa outfit level with a penalty on 33 minutes, but a late Riccardo Saponara goal was ruled offside after consultation with the video assistant referee.
“It was important to end the year on a high and it wasn’t at all easy,” said coach Massimiliano Allegri.
VAR proved decisive in the game with Sampdoria coach Marco Giampaolo, dismissing Ronaldo’s penalty as “a gift,” adding “that Saponara goal should never have been cancelled”.
“Juventus are strong, they consume everything. They are a cannibal,” said Giampaolo.
“For me, morally, the game was 2-2.”
Juventus open up a 12-point lead at the top of Serie A ahead of Napoli who can reduce the gap when they host Bologna later on Saturday.
Inter Milan are third two points behind Napoli.
Seven-time reigning champions Juventus also have a record number of points before the three-week winter break with 53 from 19 games.
“Records are meaningless, if not to improve and raise the bar,” said Allegri.
The reigning champions have dropped points just twice, being held 1-1 by Genoa at home in October and 2-2 against Atalanta midweek, and are firmly on track for an eighth consecutive Scudetto.
“With Ronaldo, the perception is different. He’s the best player in the world,” continued Allegri.
“37 points, give or take a few, are missing for the Scudetto.”
– Battle for Europe –
Ronaldo had come off the bench to score in Bergamo last Wednesday but returned to the starting line-up in the Allianz Stadium.
And the Portuguese striker found a way through early, picking up a Paulo Dybala cross to fire in past Sampdoria’s on loan Juventus goalkeeper Emil Audero.
Sampdoria pulled level following a penalty awarded following an Emre Can handball with Quagliarella making no mistake beating Mattia Perin in the Juventus goal.
The 35-year-old became the first player to score in nine consecutive Serie A games since David Trezeguet for Juventus in 2005.
Audero deflected over a Ronaldo header on the hour but the hosts went ahead when the referee pointed to the spot for an Alex Ferrari handball off a corner after a VAR viewing.
Substitute Saponara looked to have grabbed a point deep into injury time but VAR ruled he was in an offside.
“The first half of the season has gone really well,” said Ronaldo, “but there’s still a long way to go. We must stay focused and keep working away if we want to achieve great things.”
In Tuscany, Inter Milan earned back-to-back wins with Balde scoring on 72 minutes to move closer to Napoli, who they beat by the same scoreline amid controversy three days ago.
Luciano Spalletti’s side were playing without their fans after racist abuse aimed at Napoli’s Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly in Milan.
“It was fundamental that we win this match,” said Spalletti.
Roma profitted from Sampdoria’s defeat to move up to fifth thanks to second half goals for Bryan Cristante (58) and Cengiz Under (75) in a 2-0 win over promoted Parma.
Lazio were held 1-1 by Torino in the Stadio Olimpico, as Atalanta beat Sassuolo 6-2 with Slovenian Josip Ilicic scoring a second-half hat-trick.
The battle for European football is tight with just six points between Lazio in fourth and Fiorentina in tenth position.
Meanwhile, bottom club Chievo achieved their first top flight success with a 1-0 win over fellow strugglers Frosinone.
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) December 29, 2018