TURIN, Italy (Reuters) – Juventus clinched a place in the Champions League knockout stages when a brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo assist set up Mario Mandzukic to give them a 1-0 win over Valencia on Tuesday. The Serie A champions struggled to break down Valencia's defense until Joao Cancelo slipped the ball to Ronaldo in the Valencia area in the 59th minute of the Group H clash. Ronaldo was wrong-footed by Gabriel Paulista with some fancy footwork, giving him space to roll a low cross over the face of the goal for Mandzukic to turn in from two meters. Juventus top the section with 12 points from five games while Valencia, the third with five points, were eliminated after second-placed Manchester United beat Young Boys 1-0.
"Valencia has the best defense in La Liga and it's not easy to score against them," said Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri.
"We got a couple of times got caught, we need to be more lively when we go looking for the second goal," he said, repeating a criticism that he routinely levels against his team.
Juventus took several risks and the first half produced only one shot on each side target. With an early shot with an early shot which the Brazilian dealt with easily while Juve Goalkeeper made a brilliant save under the bar to keep out Mouctar Diakhaby's header on the stroke of halftime. Ronaldo, sent off at the first meeting between the teams in the group, tried again with a low free kick after the break but again dealt with it comfortably. Diakhaby had the ball in the Juventus net after two minutes after Ronaldo's goal but the Frenchman had used his free kick and it was chalked off. Paulo Dybala was shot again from another inspired Ronaldo assists, the Portuguese this time controlling the ball on his chest and hooking it back in one move, as Juve cruised home.
"Our team is the same as last season, we have improved the speed of our passing and execution, and Ronaldo gives us more self-confidence," added Allegri.
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis)