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Lazio stumble before Cup final

Milan (AFP) – Lazio stumbled ahead of next week’s Italian Cup final showdown against Juventus falling to a 3-2 Serie A defeat at Fiorentina on Saturday.

Second-half strikes from Khouma Babacar and Nikola Kalinic, and a Cristiano Lombardi own goal sealed three points which kept Fiorentina’s Europa League hopes alive.

Keita Balde’s 55th-minute opener for Lazio, his seventh in four games, had Fiorentina hanging their heads in desperation and staring at a possible third defeat from their past five games. 

But Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi rested several key players ahead of the Cup final date with treble-chasing Juventus, and Paulo Sousa’s hosts capitalised to claim a precious win that sent them up to seventh, one point behind Europa League-chasing AC Milan, who were held 1-1 away to fifth-placed Atalanta. 

Gerard Deulofeu got the equaliser for Milan three minutes from time after prolific goal-scoring defender Andrea Conti’s opener just before the break — his eighth of the season.

The result ensured Atalanta qualify for next season’s Europa League after a 26-year absence from continental competition.

In Florence, Babacar spurned a chance to level moments after Balde’s strike when Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha sent a clearance straight to the Senegal striker but made amends by tipping his curling drive to safety.

But Strakosha was left stunned when the big centre-forward pulled Fiorentina level minutes later with a header at the keeper’s near post. 

Sousa, who according to reports could be replaced by ousted Inter Milan coach Stefano Pioli, made a series of substitutions that added impetus in a busy finale.

Strakosha blocked a Matias Vecino snapshot, and although Viola keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu was happy to see Gil Patric’s deflected effort come off the upright, Fiorentina had the momentum. 

Strakosha did well to parry a Cristian Tello strike, but it came off Lazio man Stefan Radu and became an assist for Kalinic as the Croatian fired the hosts into a 2-1 lead on 73 minutes.

A curling drive from Kalinic had Fiorentina 3-1 up minutes later when it came off the far post and off the leg of Lombardi.

Lazio were forced to finish with 10 men when Marco Parolo hobbled off after Inzaghi had used all three substitutes.

But the visitors came fighting back, Luis Alberto finding Alessandro Murgia with a cross that saw his looping header go over Tatarusanu and into the far top corner.

Lazio remain fourth, 15 points behind Juventus who can wrap up a record sixth consecutive title with a draw away to Roma on Sunday.

Roma sit second at seven points adrift, with Napoli, who are at Torino, one point further off the pace.

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