Rome (AFP) – Napoli slowed Juventus’s drive for a sixth straight Italian title by coming from behind to share the spoils in a high-stakes Serie A showdown on Sunday.
The 1-1 draw on the night Gonzalo Higuain went back to his former club leaves Massimiliano Allegri’s squad six points clear of second-placed Roma, the only team with a realistic chance of catching the Turin giants with eight rounds of matches left to play.
It was not a vintage performance from Juve, but with another meeting with Napoli looming in the semi-final of the Italian Cup, and an upcoming Champions League clash with Barcelona to think about, Allegri shrugged that off.
“A great squad also needs to know how to suffer and to be humble. We have to be first in May and then nobody will remember we didn’t play well in Napoli,” he said.
Napoli are ten points adrift in third – with Lazio hot on their heels in the fight for Italy’s third Champions League place.
Coach Maurizio Sarri said he felt his side could have taken all three points. “It is a shame we didn’t win. We had the chances to. But when a team plays like that, the coach can go home with every type of emotion except disappointment.”
With Higuain making his first return to his former club in a Juventus shirt, it was always going to be a highly-charged affair and the Argentine striker was treated to over a minute of uninterrupted whistling when he walked out at a stadium where he was once idolised.
– Hamsik’s sweet finish –
But the visitors quickly silenced the San Paolo crowd by claiming a 7th minute opener after the Napoli defence failed to adequately clear a punt towards their penalty area.
Germany midfielder Sami Khedira pounced on the loose ball and played a slick one-two with Croatia’s Miralem Pjanic before firing the champions ahead.
Napoli dominated from then on. But clear chances were scarce before club captain Marek Hamsik combined with Belgian winger Dries Martens to equalise on the hour mark, beating Juve skipper Gianluigi Buffon with a sweet finish that found the top corner.
Higuain, whose 36 goals last season fired Napoli into the Champions League, had a subdued match in front of supporters who have branded him a ‘Judas’ over the manner of his departure in a 90 million euros ($96 million) deal concluded after a secret medical and without any time for goodbyes.