Napoli loses at Verona to dent Champions League hopes
MILAN (AP) — Napoli’s hopes of a Champions League spot were dealt a blow on Sunday by a 2-0 defeat at Hellas Verona in Serie A.
World Cup winner Luca Toni scored both goals for Verona, at the start of each half, to take his tally to 13 league goals this season.
“I don’t like losing and I don’t like losing like this,” Napoli coach Rafa Benitez said. “We approached the game wrongly. We played very badly in the first half and we had that same wrong attitude at the start of the second when we immediately conceded again.
“It’s a pity because we came into the game after a couple of very good matches. We lack consistency; we can’t manage to be at a great level for more than two or three matches.”
Verona midfielder Jacopo Sala was sent off in the final minute following a second booking.
Napoli remained level on points with third-place Lazio, which visits Torino on Monday. It also failed to reduce the gap with second-place Roma, which also plays Monday, at home to Sampdoria.
Genoa’s slump continued as it lost 2-0 at home to Chievo Verona, with Alberto Paloschi scoring twice against his former club. Inter Milan moved level in seventh place, albeit having played a match more, after drawing 1-1 at home to relegation-threatened Cesena.
Sassuolo ended a run of four consecutive defeats as it crushed crisis-hit Parma 4-1, while 10-man Atalanta managed a scoreless draw against Udinese.
Napoli had appeared to be closing in on Roma following four successive victories, only to see its challenge fade after just one win in its five league matches since then.
Toni got Verona off to the perfect start in the seventh minute, collecting the ball in a crowd of Napoli defenders before rounding goalkeeper Mariano Andujar and slotting into the far corner.
Verona went close to extending its lead before Napoli finally stepped up a gear toward the end of the half.
However, Verona doubled its advantage six minutes after the break following a brilliant run from Emil Hallfredsson, who raced down the left flank before crossing for Toni to turn it in with a sidefoot volley.
Only Carlos Tevez and Mauro Icardi have scored more times this campaign in Serie A, with both on 15 goals apiece.
Substitute Manolo Gabbiadini hit the post for Napoli with a 30-yard (meter) strike two minutes from time.
Genoa had looked like outside contenders for the final Champions League spot at the end of the year, but has now won just two of 12 matches.
Paloschi, who spent half a season at Genoa before signing for Chievo in 2011, netted his first four minutes after the interval following good work from Riccardo Meggiorini that sent him clean through on goal.
The two linked up again in the 68th for Paloschi to volley in Meggiorini’s cross from the left.
Chievo moved eight points away from the drop zone, while Genoa remained nine points behind Lazio.
The evening match saw Cesena move four points behind Atalanta, which occupies the last safety spot.
Inter didn’t manage a shot on target in the first half and Cesena took the lead on the half hour when Gregoire Defrel sprinted onto Carlos Carbonero’s ball over the top and lobbed it over Samir Handanovic.
Inter thought it had leveled immediately after halftime but Mauro Icardi’s spectacular overhead kick was wrongly ruled out for offside.
It did equalize moments later when Rodrigo Palacio slotted in Icardi’s cross at the near post from close range.
Lukas Podolski almost scored his first goal for Inter since joining from Arsenal in January but saw his effort crash off the inside of the left upright.
Parma was deducted a further two points on Friday for failing to pay players’ salaries and faces a bankruptcy hearing on Thursday.
There had been more joy on the field, with the bottom club drawing its previous two matches.
Nicola Sansone scored twice against his former club, either side of Andi Lila’s equalizer — although his opener appeared to be marginally offside.
There was more controversy on the hour mark when Parma goalkeeper Antonio Mirante was harshly adjudged to have fouled Sansone and was dismissed. Domenico Berardi converted the resulting penalty.
Simone Missiroli completed the scoring four minutes later.