Gianluigi Buffon thanks Gonzalo Higuain as Juventus beat Olympiakos
Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon paid tribute to Gonzalo Higuain after he came from the bench to help the Bianconeri edge past Olympiakos in the Champions League campaign on Wednesday.
Higuain was left on the bench for the second game running by Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri, but he responded to recent criticism of his performances within 10 minutes of taking to the field to put the Italian champions in front against Olympiakos.
Mario Mandzukic added a second as Juve bounced back from defeat to Barcelona in their opening group fixture with a 2-0 win, but it was Higuain taking the headlines.
"People will say that it's all Allegri's and his teammates' merit, but for me all of the merit is Gonzalo's," Buffon told Mediaset. "In a moment like this, only the person involved can provide a response, and I pay my compliments to him and thank him too, because we needed him."
Andrea Barzagli hopes the goal will lift Higuain's spirits also in view of a tricky trip to Atalanta on Sunday night.
"I hope this can unblock Gonzalo," the defender said. "We improved in the second half, also thanks to his entrance. He had a bit of pent-up anger because he hadn't been scoring, but he came on today with a great spirit and he was decisive, which is great.
"It's all his own merit, especially the attitude he had when he came on after being named as a sub for the second game in a row. When he's relaxed, he can come on and score like this and make everybody happy."
Juve's win lifts them to second in Group D behind Barcelona, level on points with Sporting Lisbon, whom they face home and away in their next two group fixtures.
And Allegri, who called for an end to the stories about Higuain's recent struggles on Tuesday, once again backed his striker after the match.
"Higuain has been decisive, he is in great condition and is confident, two appearances from the bench have made him believe," Allegri told Mediaset Premium.
"I excluded Higuain from kickoff because he was not as good as the others. Tonight he had the right attitude. He has never been a problem, he makes the difference.
"He is a player who is fundamental to us because he is a player who scored 30 goals last season that served to win the Scudetto, [compete in] the Champions League and the Coppa Italia."
Higuain said the criticism he has received did not affect him and described scoring against Olympiakos as "one of the best moments of my career."
Higuain told Mediaset: "I've always been relaxed. I've been playing in Europe now for 11 years and I've always scored. The criticism didn't get to me -- I'm used to working serenely and I never let what people say get to me.
"You've got to have faith in yourself and I want to thank all the people who have stood by me in difficult times because it's easy to back me now, but there weren't many around before. This goal is also for the fans because they gave me a huge boost when I came on.
"It's the merit of everybody who gave me so much strength and my teammates -- it's immensely gratifying to see them happy. In this game, I experienced one of the best moments of my career. The most important thing in football is to have a free mind and to work serenely and if you get criticised after going two games without scoring, then it just means people were too used to a good thing -- it would have been worse if nobody had been talking about it."
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.