Milan (AFP) – Croatia striker Nikola Kalinic struck a stunning first-half brace as Fiorentina held off a spirited fightback from Sassuolo to prevail 2-1 and move up to seventh in Serie A on Monday.
Fiorentina were missing Borja Valero through injury and had to do without Senegal striker Khouma Babacar, who headed a last-gasp winner at Palermo last week, due to a bout of flu.
But La Viola settled quickly at their Artemio Franchi stadium and after Josip Ilicic curled an early free kick inches past the top corner, they had a 10th minute lead.
Ilicic was involved again with another free kick, but after it hit the wall to bounce up into the air Kalinic stole the glory with a spectacular volley to beat Andrea Consigli in the Sassuolo net.
Remarkably, it was Kalinic’s first goal at home since against Juventus last April, the Croatian scoring all six of his previous goals this term away.
Frenchman Gregoire Defrel almost levelled quickly with a curling shot that edged wide and Viola ‘keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu made amends for flapping at a corner with a superb one-handed save to thwart a Francesco Acerbi header.
Sassuolo had the momentum but Eusebio Di Francesco’s men wasted another chance when Stefano Sensi flashed a dangerous ball across goal.
Five minutes before the interval, Kalinic produced another sparkler, the striker meeting Federico Chiesa’s low cross with a cheeky back-heel flick from the edge of the box that bounced in off the inside of the upright.
Tatarusanu had to produce a desperate save on Federico Ricci moments before the interval but the visitors’ injury problems piled up after the break when Marcello Gazzola was stretchered off after a fall and Francesco Magnanelli was also replaced after his knee buckled beneath him.
Cristian Tello replaced Ilicic for the final 20 minutes and the Fiorentina midfielder was inches away from adding a third when he spun in the area to fire just wide.
Sassuolo reduced arrears three minutes later, Acerbi firing home from a crowded area as the hosts failed to deal with a corner on 75 minutes.
The visitors almost produced a dramatic last-gasp leveller when Federico Ricci chested down a long ball and controlled to fire a volley that Tatarusanu plucked out from under the bar.
Roma host AC Milan in Monday’s late game when both sides will be looking to reduce their seven-point gap to leaders Juventus.
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