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Napoli’s title bid dented by Fiorentina defeat


Milan (AFP) – Napoli’s hopes of a first Serie A title since the days of Diego Maradona suffered a blow on Sunday after they slumped to a 3-2 home defeat to Europe-chasing Fiorentina.

Last champions in 1990, Napoli would have moved top of the pile with a win in front of 50,000 fans in Naples but they stay a point behind league leaders AC Milan after goals from Nicolas Gonzalez, Jonathan Ikone and Arthur Cabral condemned Luciano Spalletti’s side to a painful defeat.

They could end the weekend four points off the pace with six games remaining in an exciting campaign as Milan travel to Torino in Sunday’s late match.

Napoli sit third, level on 66 points with Inter Milan who have a game in hand and are back in the thick of it following their 2-0 win over Verona on Saturday.

“It’s a defeat that has cost us a lot,” said Spalletti to DAZN. 

“It’s more difficult for us now but we don’t have any other choice but to continue being top-quality professionals, get back to doing what we do and try to win the next match. But it’s not down to us anymore.”

The manner in which southern Italy’s biggest club flopped on a gorgeous day at the Stadio Maradona does not bode well for the run-in with fierce rivals Roma coming to town next weekend hunting a place in the Champions League.

– Cheers to jeers –

Napoli’s title challenge four years ago was ended by Fiorentina and the Viola again proved their nightmare.

The hosts were the better side until Gonzalez opened the scoring on the half hour with a thumping finish off the post, after which they almost vanished from the field until the introduction of Dries Mertens 10 minutes after the break.

Mertens’ first act was to almost lift the roof off the stadium by drilling home a superb first-time finish from Victor Osimhen’s cut back, but the roars of the passionate crowd were soon extinguished by two quick-fire Fiorentina goals.

Just eight minutes had elapsed since Mertens’ leveller when Ikone collected Gonzalez’s cross and rifled his team back into the lead, and jeers began ringing around the ground in the 72nd minute when Cabral brilliantly curled in the third.

“Even I don’t know how I scored that,” said Cabral after his second goal since arriving from Basel in January.

“I received the ball from (Youssef) Maleh and then instinct just took over.”

With six minutes left Osimhen, who had struggled all day to get the better of the brilliant Igor Julio, smashed home his 12th league goal of the season which will offer little consolation to the Nigerian and his teammates.

A third win in a five-match unbeaten run has Fiorentina — in seventh above Atalanta who were sunk by Hamed Traore’s brace in a 2-1 defeat at Sassuolo — two points off Serie A’s Europa League spot currently held by Lazio after they were fired to 4-1 win at Genoa by a Ciro Immobile hat-trick.

– On-fire Immobile –

Italy forward Immobile took his league-leading tally to 24 goals in 27 games this season, two more than Juventus forward Dusan Vlahovic, in a victory which put Lazio one point ahead of local rivals Roma who face Salernitana later on Sunday.

Immobile, heavily criticised for not reproducing his Lazio form for Italy, was expected to retire from international football after Italy’s failure to qualify for a second straight World Cup.

“I’ve never taken a backward step in my career,” he told DAZN. 

“I’m focusing on the rest of the season, hope to end it well with Lazio and then we’ll see.”

Genoa, who scored shortly after Immobile’s second through a Patric own goal, suffered their second straight defeat and stay in the relegation zone.

Alexander Blessin’s side are three points behind Cagliari who sit 17th after losing 2-1 to Juventus on Saturday and level with Venezia after they fell to a stoppage-time 2-1 defeat to local rivals Udinese.

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