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Bonucci saves Juve blushes in rare league draw

Milan (AFP) – Leonardo Bonucci’s second-half leveller saved Juventus’s blushes a day after Roma virtually conceded the title as the champions were held to their first Serie A draw in over a year at Udinese.

Juventus, aiming for a record sixth consecutive scudetto, were given a push in the right direction on Saturday when Roma’s 2-1 home defeat to Napoli gave the Turin giants the chance to pull 10 points clear.

But in a cagey performance at the Dacia Stadium, filled to the brim for the visit of the 32-times Italian champions, Juve failed to capitalise, settling for their first draw of the campaign and their first in Serie A since drawing with Bologna in February 2016. 

Juve remain top of the pile but are now eight points ahead of Roma, with Napoli third at 10 points off the pace.

Juventus were denied early penalty claims when Dani Alves, after pouncing on Gonzalo Higuain’s smart delivery down the right, fired in a cross that appeared to come off the arm of Samir.

Referee Antonio Damato was unimpressed, and Juve suffered another blow minutes later when Duvan Zapata powered down the left, holding off Bonucci, to fire under the body of Gianluigi Buffon as the ‘keeper came out to block at his near post. 

But the home fans’ hopes of seeing Udinese hold on for a famous win were dashed on the hour.

Juventus won a free kick and when Paulo Dybala fired an inviting delivery towards the back post, Bonucci got between Silvan Widmar and Stipe Perica to head past Orestis Karnezis.

Fans endured a scary moment when Emil Halfredsson landed awkwardly on his head and neck after a mid-air challenge with Mehdi Benatia, although the Icelander played on following treatment.

Meanwhile, surprise packages Atalanta stubbornly held on to fourth spot but missed out on the chance to close the gap on Napoli after seeing goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu perform heroics in a scoreless draw with Fiorentina in Bergamo. 

That result was welcomed by rivals who are also hunting a place in Europe next season, and Inter Milan capitalised in style with a classy 5-1 win at Cagliari that saw two-goal Ivan Perisic inspire the Nerazzurri.

Perisic flashed wide after sliding in to meet Roberto Gagliardini’s cross from the left in the opening exchanges but made amends just after the half hour with a great opener.

The Croatia midfielder deftly controlled Ever Banega’s cross in mid-air with his right foot before firing an angled strike under Gabriel with his left on 34 minutes.

Banega capitalised on his first appearance in several weeks to double Inter’s lead with a deflected free kick five minutes later, and although Marco Borriello pulled on back for the hosts Inter were unstoppable.

Perisic secured his brace two minutes after the restart and after captain Mauro Icardi struck from the spot after being hauled down in the area, Gagliardini completed the romp with a strike from distance on 89 minutes.

Inter moved up to fifth, one point ahead of city rivals AC Milan following their 3-1 win over Chievo on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Italy striker Andrea Belotti hit a hat-trick to take his tally for the season to a league-leading 22 goals in a 3-1 home win over Palermo.

Relegation candidates Palermo saw Andrea Rispoli beat England’s Joe Hart from distance on the half hour.

But Belotti struck three times in the space of eight second-half minutes to hand Torino a 10th win of the campaign. 

He now has a three-goal lead in the scoring charts on Roma’s Edin Dzeko and Higuain, both on 19, with Napoli’s Dries Mertens on 18 and Icardi on 17.

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