Three-time UEFA Europa League (UEL) champions Juventus cruised to a 4-1 aggregate knockout stage play-off victory with a 3-0 second-leg thumping of FC Nantes thanks to a hat-trick from the sensational Ángel Di María.
Despite their relatively poor Ligue 1 season, a sea of yellow provided a special atmosphere at the Stade de la Beaujoire, and the Nantes squad of the 1996 UEFA Champions League semi-final, a loss against tonight’s opponents, were present by special invitation.
Following their points deduction in Serie A, visitors Juventus will likely need to lift the trophy in this competition to experience UCL football next season, and required a win here following the first-leg stalemate.
Di María, star of December’s FIFA World Cup final, received the ball at the very corner of the box and swept it first time into the far top corner of the goal with unbelievable curve and accuracy.
With the man disadvantage, the home side were forced to play on the back foot, and Juventus had numerous chances for the remainder of the half, culminating in a Filip Kostić shot hitting the post on the stroke of HT.
They also had chances, and the likes of Kostić and Juan Cuadrado forced good saves from an imperious Alban Lafont.
However, the Nantes goalkeeper was to be beaten when Di María rose highest to meet a deflected ball into the box and headed it just over the line for his third of the night.