ROME, Feb 18 – Napoli’s hopes of closing the gap on Juventus at the top of Serie A to two points were dashed yesterday following a subdued performance in a 0-0 home draw with Sampdoria.
Fiorentina, who before Christmas were shaping up as rivals to Napoli in the chase for a Champions League spot, got back to winning ways with a 4-1 thrashing of a dismal Inter Milan.
With leaders Juve losing 1-0 at AS Roma on Saturday, second-placed Napoli were looking to put the pressure on their Turin rivals and bounce back after a 3-0 home Europa League defeat by Viktoria Plzen.
After a minute’s silence to remember former Napoli player Carmelo Imbriani, who died of cancer on Friday at the age of 37, it was the visitors who came out in determined mood with Gianluca Sansone going close early on.
Napoli responded well, though, with Lorenzo Insigne letting fly from distance and Edinson Cavani failing to capitalise on some good movement, fluffing a shot into the arms of goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Samp’s big chance to break the deadlock came just after the half-hour when Napoli keeper Morgan De Sanctis tipped a low drive from Sansone past the post, then flapped at the resulting corner, only to be bailed out by Valon Behrami who cleared off the line.
Napoli were living dangerously but, as the game entered its final phase, the visitors were clearly tiring.
Goran Pandev came off the bench to link up nicely with Marek Hamsik whose powerful left-foot shot was only kept out by a full-stretch Romero.
Juventus, however, remain in touching distance just four points above with the two sides due to meet next month.
Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri did not speak to the press but sporting director Riccardo Bigon said this was because of illness.
“We remain convinced that we have our future in our hands,” he said. “We created plenty of chances against Sampdoria, we’re still optimistic about our chances in this title race.
“Mazzarri? He’s not well. He’s got a 38-degree temperature, he’s gone home to get some rest.”
Sampdoria coach Delio Rossi was serving a touchline ban following an altercation with Roma players last weekend but his right-hand man Fedele Limone was satisfied with a point.
“We worked really hard defensively, we gave very little away to Napoli,” the assistant coach said. “The pitch? It’s the same for everybody. It was a problem for us when it came to trying to find space, it certainly did affect us.”
Goals in each half from Adem Ljajic and Stevan Jovetic ensured a comprehensive win for Fiorentina against Inter in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
Fiorentina dominated the first half, rarely troubled by Inter’s toothless attack, and it was only a fine display from keeper Samir Handanovic that kept the scoreline respectable.
Fiorentina took the lead in the 13th minute after Jovetic flicked a cross by Manuel Pasqual into the path of Ljajic who got in front of defender Juan Jesus to beat Handanovic with a neat diving header from close range.
Having denied Jovetic and Borja Valero in quick succession, the unfortunate Handanovic could do little about the home side’s second.
Jovetic shrugged off the attentions of Andrea Ranocchia before curling in a fine shot from the left-hand side of the penalty area with the keeper rooted to the spot.
The Montenegrin got his second 10 minutes into the half, set up by a neat Alberto Aquilani back heel that left him free to hit a powerful right-foot shot past Handanovic.
Ljajic made it four in the 65th minute, given time by Inter’s woeful defence to direct Borja Valero’s pass towards the back of the net.
Antonio Cassano’s late consolation aside, this was humiliating for Inter who face the remainder of the season without talismanic striker Diego Milito who will be sidelined by a knee ligament injury.
There were also leapfrogged by city rivals Milan who sit fourth in the standings, rejuvenated by former Nerazzurri player Mario Balotelli and with the Milanese derby looming next weekend.
Struggling Pescara lost 2-0 to Cagliari and Torino earned three points with a 2-1 home win over Atalanta.
Genoa, easing clear of the drop zone, saw off Udinese 1-0 and Catania are seventh thanks to a 1-0 win over Bologna. Siena host Lazio last Monday. – Reuters