Turin, April 23 (IANS) Napoli defeated Juventus 1-0 riding a 90th-minute header by Senegalese central defender Kalidou Koulibaly at the Allianz Stadium here, cutting the deficit to one point against the Serie A leaders and six-time defending champions.
With just four rounds of games to go in the season, it looked like Juventus were going to maintain their four-point advantage over second-placed Napoli on Sunday, as the final whistle came ever closer. And the match looked like heading for a goalless draw until Koulibaly shrugged off his marker to head home a corner from Jose Callejon, reports Efe.
The 1-0 win allowed Napoli to stay in the hunt for their first championship since 1989-90, when they were led to a second title in four seasons by Argentine icon Diego Maradona, while Juventus are bidding for their seventh consecutive league title, reports Efe.
The match was a nail-biter, with Napoli almost notching an early goal when winger Lorenzo Insigne fired a shot that went wide. But the real damage to Juventus was the apparent muscle injury to veteran central defender Giorgio Chiellini which led to his leaving the pitch for the duration a few minutes later.
Juventus got a good chance in the 17th minute on a deflected free-kick that goalkeeper Pepe Reina tried to capitalize on but hit the post with.
The best shot of the first half, however, came when Napoli’s Marek Hamsik of Slovakia fired a crossing shot that did not connect.
Meanwhile, a goal by Napoli’s Insigne just before half-time was ruled offside.
The second half was a tense one, with each side trying for the win, but neither managing to get through their rival’s defense, until Koulibaly headed home his powerful last-minute shot to the immediate euphoria in the stands.
In the last four matches, Massimiliano Allegri-coached Juventus must go up against Inter Milan and Roma, while Napoli, coached by Maurizio Sarri, will have an easier schedule, facing the likes of Fiorentina, Torino, Sampdoria and Crotone.
“Anything can happen in a one-off head-to-head. We struggled a little towards the end but we needed to see the game out. It was a match we didn’t want to lose but let’s not forget that we’re still a point ahead and we just need to hold onto our lead,” Allegri was quoted as saying by Juventus’ website.
“Napoli deserve credit for getting themselves back into the Scudetto running. They’re good with the ball but this match was basically decided by a single moment,” he added.
“The title race will go down to the wire because there are no easy matches for either side.”
Sarri told the Naples club’s homepage: “We’ve won here in one of the most significant arenas in Europe, against a team that has won six league titles on the bounce — they could also win a seventh.
“Juventus are still in first place. We will carry on giving 110 per cent, but Juventus are ahead of us and their win percentage is impressive. We’ll do all we can but it all depends on them.
“We know it’s tough to maintain calm, especially after a wonderful victory like the one today, but that is my job.”