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AC Milan midfielder Bryan Cristante (left), jumps for the ball with Atalanta midfielder Luca Cigarini during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Atalanta at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy, Jan 6. (AP)
Kaka surpasses century as Milan rout Atalanta Napoli close in on Roma

MILAN, Jan 6, (AFP): Brazilian forward Kaka boosted his World Cup hopes by scoring his 100th and 101st goals for AC Milan in a welcome 3-0 win over Atalanta at the San Siro on Monday. Kaka is one of several Europe-based stars hoping to nail a place in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad and did his chances a world of good with two well-taken goals that helped move struggling Milan up three places to 10th. Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, who on Sunday confirmed his departure from the club at the end of the season, had labelled the game a relegation dogfight and was relieved after Atalanta rattled the woodwork twice. “There was only one point between us and we were only five points clear of the bottom three,” said the 46-year-old coach. “Atalanta had a few scoring chances in the second half but overall I don’t think we gave too many chances away. We should have defended better, but Atalanta are a strong side and (goalkeeper) Christian Abbiati did well.”

Mario Balotelli, recovering from flu, started on the bench with Alessandro Matri spearheading the attack in Allegri’s preferred 4-3-2-1 formation, which also featured midfielder Bryan Cristante. Former Valencia defender Adil Rami also made his debut while Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda, who arrived in Milan during the festive break, watched the game from the stands alongside club CEO Adriano Galliani. Cristante, making only his second senior appearance, marked the occasion by scoring Milan’s third in the 67th minute to virtually secure what was only Milan’s second win in their past 10 games and fifth of the campaign. Before then, Kaka led the charge, scoring his 100th goal for Milan after collecting a pass deep on the left of the area to turn and beat Andrea Consigli with an angled strike at the keeper’s far post. Matri made way for Balotelli just before the hour mark and the Italy striker played a role in Kaka’s second, holding off defender Giulio Migliaccio deep on the right to cross for Robinho.

When the ball bobbled in front of the unmarked Brazilian, Kaka promptly took possession to smash the ball past Consigli from close range. Milan had barely finished celebrating when Cristante added their third, smashing a crisp daisycutter just inside Consigli’s far post from the edge of the area. Kaka was not alone in netting twice, Luca Toni hitting a first-half brace in a 3-1 win for Verona away to Udinese which allowed the visitors to leapfrog Inter into fourth ahead of the Nerazzurri’s trip later Monday to Lazio. Afterwards, Udinese’s talismanic striker Antonio Di Natale announced his imminent retirement. “I’ve spoken to my family, and now I will speak to the club about it,” said the 36-year-old Naples-born player, who has twice finished the league’s top scorer.

Elsewhere, basement side Catania claimed only their third win in 18 games from a 2-0 home defeat of Bologna, while Genoa won by the same scoreline at home to struggling new boys Sassuolo, who remain third from bottom. Ciro Immobile opened the scoring for Torino in the 21st minute at Parma, but from then on it was all downhill for the visitors as Marco Marchionni, Alessandro Lucarelli and Amauri all netted to secure a precious 3-1 home win. Earlier, a brace from Belgian international Dries Mertens secured a 2-0 win for Napoli over Sampdoria which pushed Napoli to within two points of second-placed Roma.

Napoli’s 12th win left them in third with a 10-point deficit to leaders Juventus, who went eight points clear of Roma with a 3-0 rout of the Giallorossi on Sunday. Sampodoria had been unbeaten since former Serbia coach Sinisa Mihajlovic took over the helm and he admitted: “I have no qualms, Napoli deserved the win. “We knew it would be tough to win here but I was happy with the performance and the fact we created chances against a strong side like Napoli in their stadium.”

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