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Juve survive major scare
Rome, March 3, 2013, Reuters: 23:49 IST
Champions eke out hard-fought draw against Napoli to stay on top
Juventus survived a second-half Napoli onslaught to draw 1-1 with their closest title rivals, maintaining a six-point lead after a testing examination at a ground where they haven’t won in 13 years.
Juventus, whose last league win at the Sao Paolo came way back in September 2000 when current coach Antonio Conte was playing in midfield, took the lead in the game but were indebted to veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon for salvaging a point. “The title is far away, we are six points in front which is a good advantage,” said Conte, after a game brought forward so Juve can prepare for Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Celtic.
“But there are another 33 available and we still have to play Milan, Inter and Catania. We must always be gritty, determined and motivated to get the points, because every match is difficult and a surprise is always around the corner.” Opportunity missed
Napoli boss Walter Mazzarri, whose side have now drawn three games in succession, insisted his team had enough opportunities to take all three points and can still pip Juventus for the title.
“We created a few more scoring opportunities than Juventus. If luck goes our way and we can finish our chances better, then we can notch up four or five consecutive victories,” said Mazzarri.
Napoli dangerman Marek Hamsik had fired a fierce drive over Buffon’s crossbar before the visitors snatched the lead after just nine minutes. Giorgio Chiellini rose above Miguel Angel Britos to power home a header past goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis from a fine, pinpoint cross by Andrea Pirlo.
It was a first goal of the season in Serie A for Chiellini in his 15th match.
But he almost failed to make the game, having to undergo a late fitness test on an ankle problem.
Both sides continued to have half-chances before Napoli levelled two minutes before half-time.
Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler unleashed a 25-yard right-foot pile-driver which took a deflection off the head of Leonardo Bonucci and flew past the despairing dive of Buffon into the top corner.
In a bad-tempered end to the first half, Edinson Cavani was booked for elbowing Chiellini in the face, just moments after the Juventus player had cheekily tugged the flowing, dark hair of the Uruguayan.
The dangerous Hamsik brought a diving save out of Buffon just before the hour mark after being given too much space on the edge of the penalty area. Buffon then pulled off a series of fine saves as Napoli began to pick their way through the Juventus defence.
On the 73-minute mark, he was almost beaten, however, when he parried a stinging Hamsik drive into the path of substitute Blerim Dzemaili who was unable to adjust his balance as the ball came towards him at speed and his shot was scuffed wide of the post.
Buffon then had to be alert to tip an Inler drive over the bar while Cavani thumped a late free-kick over the top in the dying moments.