by Justin DAVIS
With a 3-1 lead from the first leg of their Italian Cup semi-final, Juventus travelled to Naples on Wednesday expected to secure their third consecutive final appearance.
And they did, but not before suffering a scare, going down 3-2 at an emotionally charged San Paolo to creep through 5-4 on aggregate and maintain their hopes of a treble of trophies.
As well as ending Napoli’s hopes of silverware, Higuain’s double left president Aurelio De Laurentiis looking ever more the culprit in a spat that began hours after the striker’s shock move to the Serie A champions last summer.
Despite pocketing a healthy profit when he sold Higuain to Juve for an Italian record transfer fee of 90 million euros ($96 million) De Laurentiis said the Argentine had “betrayed” Napoli.
Higuain, 29, who hit a Serie A record 36 goals in his final season with Napoli, had refused to respond to De Laurentiis’s provocation.
Until Wednesday night.
Whistled and jeered throughout a 1-1 Serie A draw at the same San Paolo ground last weekend, Higuain overcame a similarly hostile reception to give Juve a 32nd-minute lead with a superb strike from outside the area.
He made a beeline for the executive boxes, pointing his finger directly at De Laurentiis and mouthing: “E colpa tua”.
Although Napoli captain Marek Hamsik levelled for Napoli, Higuain blasted a superb second from Juan Cuadrado’s cross just five minutes later.
De Laurentiis lifted his eyes to the sky in resignation, a gesture not missed by Higuain’s brother and agent Nicola.
“How I love to see the face of Aurelio every time my brother scores,” he wrote on Twitter. “See you next time president. Hahaha!!!”
Although substitute Dries Mertens levelled for the hosts and Lorenzo Insigne added a late winner, there was little for Napoli to celebrate on Higuain’s second visit to the stadium this season.
He has now hit four goals against his former club this term, three in the cup and one in the league, to keep Juventus on course for a third consecutive league and cup double.
The gloves are now firmly off between Higuain and Napoli’s film-producing owner and the forward has launched proceedings claiming De Laurentiis owes him 600,000 euros.
Higuain says that De Laurentiis held back dues from image rights sales and has taken his case to the league.
“I’ve got nothing to say,” De Laurentiis responded curtly post-match when asked to give his opinion on Higuain.