Milan (AFP) – Ciro Immobile and Carlos Bacca hit spot-kicks for Lazio and AC Milan respectively on Sunday in key wins that boosted the Serie A sides’ hopes of European football next season.
Table-toppers Juventus took their lead over Roma to 10 points with a comfortable win over Empoli on Saturday, and the gap will remain if Roma suffer defeat at Inter Milan later Sunday.
With third-placed Napoli now 12 points in arrears after a shock 2-0 defeat to Atalanta, the race for a top-three finish is back on.
Atalanta (three points off third), Lazio (four), Inter (six) and AC Milan (seven) are all within reach, but it took a pair of spot-kicks for Lazio and AC Milan to keep their hopes alive.
Lazio welcomed Udinese protecting a three-game unbeaten run but it took Immobile’s second-half penalty to secure the points at the Stadio Olimpico after Iraqi defender Kadhim Ali Adnan was deemed to have handled.
The 1-0 win kept Lazio fifth, 16 points behind runaway leaders Juventus, and just four behind third-placed Napoli.
“After Atalanta’s win at Napoli, it’s given the table a different look,” Immobile told Premium Sport.
“We’re up there as well now, and we’ll try to capitalise from here on in. We have a few key games coming up, so we have to stay focused if we want Europe.”
AC Milan’s Champions League hopes are probably over following a series of recent setbacks, and they showed little improvement in a cagey performance away to Sassuolo.
Bacca’s 22nd minute penalty ended a three-game victory famine at the Mapei Stadium for Vincenzo Montella’s men.
After earning an early caution from referee Gianpaolo Calvarese for simulation, Domenico Berardi missed the spot-kick for Sassuolo after Juraj Kucka hauled down Alfred Duncan minutes later.
Ten minutes later the hosts suffered another blow when Calvarese awarded Milan a penalty after Andrea Bertolacci came down under a soft challenge.
Bacca slid on his way to mis-hitting his effort, which flew over the body of Andrea Consigli and into the net, prompting vociferous protests from Sassuolo that the Colombian had made contact twice with the ball.
Sassuolo saw valid claims for a penalty waved away on the hour after Gabriel Paletta came in late with a challenge that sent Matteo Politano sprawling to the turf.
“They shouldn’t have had a penalty, and we should have had three,” Sassuolo forward Alberto Aquilani told Mediaset Premium.
But the hosts were lucky not to escape further punishment, Consigli fingertipping a Suso effort to safety before, from the corner, pulling Cristian Zapata’s header out from under the crossbar.
“Today we saw a lot of borderline incidents, fortunately they went in our favour,” said Montella.
“It was a very nervous game, every time something happened there were protests.”
– Ntcham rescues Genoa –
Zdenek Zeman steered Pescara to a stunning 5-0 rout of Genoa last week in his first game back in charge of the league minnows, which led Genoa to sack Ivan Juric.
But the wily Czech coach failed to reproduce the magic in a 2-0 defeat at Chievo, who saw ex-AC Milan midfielder Valter Birsa open the scoring on 12 minutes.
The hosts wrapped up the points on the hour when Lucas Castro was left with an easy tap-in from six yards after he pounced on a loose ball.
Elsewhere, Genoa had late substitute Olivier Ntcham to thank for a 94th minute rocket that secured a share of the points in a 1-1 draw at home to Bologna.
Andrea Mandorlini looked to be on his way to an opening defeat after succeeding Juric in midweek, after Federico Viviani struck for Bologna just before the hour.
But 21-year-old French midfielder Ntcham, on loan from Manchester City, made his entry on 92 minutes and coolly sidestepped his marker to beat Antonio Mirante in the Bologna net with an unstoppable drive two minutes later.
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