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Napoli and Roma remain perfect with key wins

September 22, 2013

ROME (AP) — Napoli and Roma remained perfect atop Serie A with key wins, Inter Milan thrashed Sassuolo 7-0, and two-time defending champion Juventus struggled at times before edging Hellas Verona 2-1 in a busy Sunday of the Italian league.

Napoli came away from the San Siro with a 2-1 victory over AC Milan with goals from Miguel Britos and Gonzalo Higuain, while Mario Balotelli failed to convert a penalty kick for the first time in his career.

“We worked really well as a squad today and I think that’s our strength,” new Napoli coach Rafa Benitez said. “We’re still starting this job and we allowed a lot defensively tonight but beating a big squad like Milan at the San Siro is important.”

Roma beat rival Lazio 2-0 in the city derby, with fullback Federico Balzaretti scoring the decisive goal and the Giallorossi’s 36-year-old captain Francesco Totti again proving decisive.

In the lunchtime fixture, Diego Milito scored twice on his return from injury as Inter thrashed its recently promoted opponent amid news that Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir is closing in on a takeover of the club.

Juventus came from a goal down in Turin to edge visiting Verona with goals from Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, while Mati Fernandez and Giuseppe Rossi scored as Fiorentina won 2-0 at Atalanta.

Also, it was: Catania 0, Parma 0; and Bologna 1, Torino 2.

Through four rounds, Napoli and Roma are two points ahead of Juventus, Inter and Fiorentina.

In Milan, Britos put Napoli ahead six minutes in with a header following a free kick and Higuain doubled the lead in the 53rd with a long, low shot that Rossoneri goalkeeper Christian Abbiati got a hand on but wasn’t able to stop.

Balotelli was 21-for-21 in his professional career from the penalty spot but Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina blocked his effort in the 61st after the striker was dragged down by Britos. Balotelli’s shot wasn’t perfectly placed to the corner and Reina guessed right as he lunged to his right.

“We knew Mario was very strong at the penalty lottery and we were a bit lucky,” Reina said.

Balotelli was unfortunate again in the 71st when he hit the crossbar, although he finally found the target in added time with a splendid, curling, long-range effort.

Still, Milan dropped eight points back, and Balotelli picked up his second yellow card after the final whistle, for protests, and will miss the Rossoneri’s next match.

In Rome, two days after extending his contract for two more seasons, Totti provided the cross in the 63rd when Balzaretti volleyed in for his first goal in Serie A since April 2011, when he played for Palermo.

Seconds before his goal, Balzaretti hit the post.

Lazio’s best chance at the Stadio Olimpico came when the ball bounced just wide off Miroslav Klose’s thigh in the 55th. Lazio was reduced to 10 men when Andre Dias was sent off for a last-man foul on Totti in the 82nd.

New signing Adem Ljajic earned and converted a penalty for Roma in added time.

Lazio had won four of the last five derbies, including a victory in last season’s Italian Cup final, which left Roma and its fans despondent throughout the summer.

“We put the church back in the center of town,” Roma’s new coach Rudi Garcia said, using a proverb from his native French tonque. “It was a huge match for us and for our fans and like I said, ‘You don’t play the derby, you win it.’”

In Turin, Fabrizio Cacciatore gave Verona the lead in the 36th. Tevez equalized with an angled shot in the 40th for his third goal in three league matches and Llorente, who was growing unhappy after playing only one minute previously this season, scored the winner with a glancing header in first-half added time following a cross from Arturo Vidal.

However, Juventus risked conceding an equalizer to the end and failed to dominate for its third successive match, following draws with Inter last week and at FC Copenhagen in the Champions League.

Inter’s victory marked only the third time in Serie A that a team won 7-0 away, after Juventus beat Pro Patria in 1950 and Udinese routed Palermo in 2011, prompting Delio Rossi to be fired.

Padova and AC Milan hold the record with 8-0 wins in 1949 and 1955, respectively.

“I’m sorry about the result,” Inter coach Walter Mazzarri said. “We tried to hold ourselves up but there were vertical spaces left wide open.”

Rodrigo Palacio, Saphir Taider, Ricardo Alvarez and Estaban Cambiasso also scored for Inter, and defender Raffaele Puccino added an own goal.

Milito, who came on in the 54th, had been out since injuring his left knee in February.

Having moved from Napoli, Mazzarri has made an immediate impact with Inter, which finished ninth last season with 16 losses. The Nerazzurri have yet to lose this season.

“This was an important mental test, to move from Juventus to Sassuolo,” Mazzarri said. “Someone could have thought about doing things slightly less well but everyone was focused.”

Palacio put Inter ahead seven minutes in following a cross from Yuto Nagatomo, Taider scored his first goal with Inter in the 23rd by redirecting a rebound from Palacio and Puccino made it 3-0 in the 33rd when he tried to beat Taider to the ball but ended up putting it in his own net instead.

Alvarez made it 4-0 with a rebound of a shot from Palacio in the 53rd. Milito replaced Palacio a minute later and needed just nine minutes to score, taking a cross from Alvarez and redirecting it in from close range.

“I broke down when he scored that goal,” Mazzarri said. “He’s an exceptional kid.”

Cambiasso found the target with a long shot in the 75th and Milito scored again in the 83rd after taking a pass from Fredy Guarin.


Follow Andrew Dampf at http://twitter.com/AndrewDampfAP

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