ROME: Napoli kept in the Champions League driving seat with acrucial 2-0 victory over Palermo on Tuesday. The victory maintained the southerners' grip on third place aheadof Wednesday's games when either Udinese, Inter Milan or Laziocould join them. With just two games to go, Napoli are ideally placed to qualify forEurope's premier club competition for the second time in a row. Head-to-head records and not goal difference count if teams finishlevel on points at the season's end and Napoli have the edge onboth Udinese and Inter, although not Lazio. |
And that has Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri feeling nervous. "We're better now, we've got better concentration, we'verediscovered certain values. "We can't afford many mistakes now or we'll compromise what we'vebuilt these last few weeks." First half goals from Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik did thedamage as Napoli showed they are past the blip that recently sawthem lose three in a row and fail to win in five. They almost got off to a flying start in the derby of the TwoSicilies as Gokhan Inler thudded the post with a rising shot fromoutside the box.
But goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis had to come to their rescuemoments later with two quick-fire saves, first with his knees fromJosip Ilicic and then at full-stretch from Abel Hernandez's header. However, Milan Milanovic inadvertently handled Goran Pandev'scross, the ball rebounding off his thigh onto his arm, and thereferee pointed to the spot. Palermo complained bitterly but Milanovic's arm clearly preventedthe ball from going into the danger area and Cavani improved hispoor penalty record this season - he has missed five out of nine -with the goal from the spot on 16 minutes. Ilicic produced a moment of magic to skip away from SalvatoreAronica but Paolo Cannavaro came quickly across to snuff out thedanger. But Napoli doubled their advantage when Pandev's great visionreleased Hamsik to prod home from 15 yards.
Cavani could have had a second but failed to hit the target whenescaping alone after the break. Roma's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next season allbut mathematically died following a 0-0 draw at Chievo in soppingwet conditions in Verona. Roma trail Napoli by six points with just two games left, givingthem little realistic hope of closing that gap. And in fairness they were lucky to come away from Verona with apoint in a match made hugely difficult by wet conditions thataffected the way the ball rolled and bounced.
Roma coach Luis Enrique couldn't hide his frustration. "That wasn't a match it was water-polo," he complained. "A point is useless to us. We needed to win but it was difficult onthis pitch. "This hasn't been a happy year, I don't know what will happen inthe future but a coach has to accept criticism: it's the resultsthat judge a coach.
"Several times we've had the possibility of going third but we'venot done well." Chievo had much the better of the chances and Roma barely troubledhome goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino. American international Michael Bradley put Alberto Paloschi inbehind the Roma backline but Gianluca Curci saved his left-footedshot. Finland midfielder Perparim Hetemaj was then put clean through byRinaldo Cruzado. He tried to dink the ball over Curci but the pitchcontributed in him failing to get the ball off the ground and thegoalkeeper saved easily.
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