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Viola stun Lazio to launch late Europa League bid


Milan (AFP) – Second-half strikes from Khouma Babacar and Nikola Kalinic, and a Cristiano Lombardi own goal sealed a 3-2 win over Lazio to keep Fiorentina’s Europa League hopes alive on Saturday.

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 next week’s Cup final date with treble-chasing Juventus, and Paulo Sousa’s hosts capitalised to claim a precious win that sent then up to seventh to sit level on points with Europa League-chasing AC Milan, who are away to Atalanta, in fifth, in Saturday’s late game. 

Babacar spurned a chance to level moments later when Lazio ‘keeper 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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