NAPOLI Shock Juve To Throw Serie A Title Race Wide Open
SECOND-PLACED Napoli threw the Serie A title race wide open in dramatic style yesterday when Kalidou Koulibaly scored with a towering header in the last minute to give them a famous 1-0 win at leaders Juventus.
Napoli cut the gap between themselves and the Turin side to one point with four matches to play, setting up a dramatic finale to the Serie A season especially as Juve, chasing a seventh successive title, have to visit Inter Milan and AS Roma.
Napoli dominated the match but seemed to have run out of ideas and energy until the final minute when Jose Callejon’s outswinging corner was met by Senegal international Koulibaly with a monstrous header which left Gianlugi Buffon helpless.
Juventus, themselves famed for pulling off wins from similar situations, were left shattered after seeing their 20-match unbeaten league run ended while Napoli’s players celebrated a famous win.
“We have always believed in the title and now we believe in it more than ever,” Koulibaly said. “We played really well this evening.
“It was one of the most important goals of my career. Juventus are a really strong team but we showed we are up to the challenge. We believe in our football.”
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri described it as “a poor match by both sides with only a few shots on goal”.
Juventus had to reshuffle their defence after Giorgio Chiellini limped off injured in the 11th minute although they nearly went ahead with a Miralem Pjanic free kick which was deflected on to the post.
As Napoli took control, Marek Hamsik got free and turned his shot across the face of goal, Mario Rui had a cross tipped over by Buffon and Lorenzo Insigne had a goal disallowed for offside.
Napoli continued to dominate after halftime but failed to make much headway against a typically resolute Juve defence.
The game appeared to be petering out into a draw that would have suited Juventus until Lorenzo Insigne’s shot was turned around the post by Buffon for the decisive corner.
After all their sophisticated passing, it was an old-fashioned central defender’s header which finally broke Juve’s resistance.
Juventus lead on 85 points with Napoli on 84 followed by AS Roma and Lazio on 67.
Free-scoring Lazio thumped Sampdoria 4-0 to stay on course for next season’s Champions League while Benevento were relegated after one season by Crotone’s last-gasp 2-1 win at Udinese.
Headers from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Stefan de Vrij put Lazio 2-0 up at halftime before Serie A’s leading scorer Ciro Immobile added two in the last five minutes to take his tally to 29 goals and Lazio’s to 83.
The top four qualify for the Champions League group stage next season and Lazio’s win kept them fourth with 67 points, behind AS Roma on their head-to-head record.
Second-half goals from Mauro Icardi, who took his tally to 26, and Ivan Perisic gave Inter Milan a fortuitous 2-1 win at Chievo which kept them fifth with 66 points.
Atlanta beat Torino by the same score to go sixth, pushing AC Milan down to seventh and out of the Europa League places after their shock home 1-0 defeat by Benevento on Saturday.
Davide Faraoni scored in the 86th minute to give Crotone a 2-1 win at Udinese, who slumped to a remarkable 11th consecutive league defeat. Kevin Lasagna put Udinese ahead after five minutes but Simy levelled two minutes later.
Crotone are 17th with 31 points, one place outside the relegation zone, and are 14 ahead of Benevento who cannot catch them.