MILAN: Rising teenage star Moise Kean stepped up in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo to rescue a 1-0 win for Juventus against lowly Empoli on Saturday as the champions opened up an 18-point lead at the top of Serie A.
The 19-year-old — who burst into the limelight during Italy’s opening Euro 2020 qualifiers — came on as a substitute in Turin and three minutes later scored his third league goal of the season after his double against Udinese earlier this month.
“I am neither (Lionel) Messi nor Cristiano but one day I hope to become like them,” said Kean after Juventus got back winning after their first league defeat of the season to Genoa before the international break.
Second-placed Napoli travel to Roma on Sunday looking to close the gap to 15 points with nine games remaining.
Ronaldo had been rested by Juventus against Genoa and the Portuguese star is now recovering from a right thigh injury picked up on international duty.
Argentina striker Paulo Dybala also pulled up with a thigh problem during the warm-up before Saturday’s game.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri said he had wanted to ease the pressure on Kean by opting for Rodrigo Bentancur to replace the Argentine.
“Scoring two goals for Italy in as many games, having all that attention, it uses up a lot of energy both physically and mentally,” said Allegri. “He (Kean) returned from international duty and looked like he barely knew where he was. He’s got the qualities to be a great player, but so did many who have lost their way over the years.”
Kean’s form, with goals for Italy against Finland and Liechtenstein, gives Allegri more options ahead of his side’s Champions League quarter-final against Ajax.
Kean became the second youngest player after Mario Balotelli, aged 18 years and 242 days in 2009, to score eight Serie A goals. “I’m ready to pursue new records,” he warned.