Serie A: Napoli 1 Juventus 1
By Football News
Juventus remain six points clear at the Serie A summit after being held to a 1-1 draw by Scudetto rivals Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo.
Antonio Conte's men looked poised to take a giant step towards retaining their title after taking an early lead through Giorgio Chiellini, but Gokhan Inler's deflected drive drew the home side level just before the break.
Napoli looked the slightly more pinching victory during the second period but Juventus held on quite comfortably to keep their nearest challengers at bay in the title race.
The only pre-match doubt Conte had was whether to start Chiellini, who took a knock to his ankle against Siena last weekend. He decided to take a gamble on the Italy international - and it paid off spectacularly just 10 minutes in, Chiellini rising above Miguel Britos to powerfully head a terrific cross from Andrea Pirlo past Morgan De Sanctis.
The goal was harsh on Napoli, who had actually begun the brighter of the two, with Marek Hamsik particularly prominent early on. However, the tide turned and Mirko Vucinic had already squandered one decent headed opening when he butchered a gilt-edged opportunity to double the visitors' advantage.
Leonardo Bonucci - of all people - dissected the Napoli defence with a perfectly weighted pass from deep that Arturo Vidal, in a sensational demonstration of special awareness, controlled before immediately flicking inside to Vucinic.
The Montenegrin took an age to decide how best to finish, allowing De Sanctis to narrow the angle sufficiently to block the Bianconeri forward's belated strike on goal away for a corner.
Such profligacy rarely goes unpunished at the top level and so it was that Napoli managed to haul themselves level during a dramatic conclusion to a compelling opening 45 minutes.
There appeared to be little danger to the Juventus goal when Inler picked up possession some 30 yards out but the Swiss international's well-struck drive from distance took a big enough deflection off the head of Bonucci, sending it flying over the despairing dive of Gianluigi Buffon.
That was the first stroke of luck Napoli benefitted from on the night; the second arrived in the dying seconds of the first half when star striker Edinson Cavani inexplicably avoided a straight red card for a blatant forearm into Chiellini's face.
In his defence referee Daniele Orsato did not see the incident, but quite why he decided to brandish only a yellow after being informed of what had happened by one of his assistants was utterly mystifying.
Napoli did their utmost to make the most of their undoubted good fortune, with Hamsik drawing a fine stop out of Buffon shortly after half-time. Vucinic responded in kind, bringing the best out of De Sanctis, as Juve redoubled their efforts to all but end the title race.
Napoli were left to curse their own inability to draw to within three points of their opponents after wasting a terrific chance to snatch a vital win.
Just moments after Cavani had headed straight at Buffon, Hamsik again found some space in between the Juve midfield and defence. The Slovak unleashed a powerful drive that Buffon found too hot to handle, but Lorenzo Insigne, who had replaced the grossly ineffective Goran Pandev, snatched at the rebound and dragged the ball wide. And with it, went Napoli's best chance to breathe new life into the Scudetto race.