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Roma close ‘gap’ on Juve with clinical win Milan edge Cagliari

MILAN, Jan 26, (AFP): Captain Francesco Totti scored late from the spot to cap a crucial 3-1 win for Roma away to Verona which closed the gap on leaders Juventus to six points on Sunday. Elsewhere, Giampaolo Pazzini scored a late winner for AC Milan in a precious 2-1 win away to Cagliari, while city rivals Inter were held to a scoreless draw at home by basement side Catania. Livorno boosted their relegation battle with a 3-1 home win over Sassuolo, while at the other end of the table Torino and Parma both moved up one place to sixth and seventh with 1-0 wins over Atalanta and Udinese respectively. Juventus had to settle for a share of the points in a 1-1 draw away to Lazio on Saturday when goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was sent off and left the champions with 10 men for much of their encounter at the Olympic Stadium.

Napoli, in third, were also held 1-1 by visitors Chievo and are 12 points adrift of Juventus. Totti was quick to underline Roma’s scudetto ambitions when he told Sky Sport Italia: “After Juve’s slip-up yesterday we put pressure on ourselves to take the three points. “I think we’ve fired a warning shot with regard to the championship fight. We’re on a par with Juve.” Roma landed a blow on Juventus with a 1-0 win over the champions in the quarter-finals of the Italian Cup in midweek — a morale boost after they lost 3-0 to the same opponents earlier this month in their Serie A clash.

Roma were by far the more creative side against Verona and after spurning several chances made the breakthrough in first-half injury time when Gervinho powered down the left and pulled back for Adem Ljajic to tap home from close range. Verona levelled minutes after the restart when Emil Hallfredsson finished off the good work of Juan Iturbe to beat Morgan De Sanctis with a powerful drive. But Roma pulled in front on the hour thanks to a superb Gervinho strike from just inside the area and the game turned permanently in the visitors’ favour when late substitute Totti fired home from the spot to secure Roma’s third consecutive win since the away defeat to Juve earlier this month. Roma coach Rudi Garcia said that Juventus were not assured of the title by any means.

“Juventus are not unbeatable, but they’re a very strong side.” He added: “The title won’t depend on only us. All we can do is our best.” Juve coach Antonio Conte admitted on Saturday he was not used to the word ‘defeat’, but praised his 10-man side for the fightback which saw Fernando Llorente level Antonio Candreva’s 27th-minute penalty on the hour mark after Buffon had hauled down striker Miroslav Klose. “Our winning attitude remained intact even with the setback of our keeper’s sending off,” said Conte. “I was happy with the team’s reaction, it’s in times like these that their character as men, and not just as players, comes to the fore.”.

Milan, meanwhile, repaid Clarence Seedorf’s belief in the struggling Serie A giants with two late goals to hand the Dutchman his second win in as many league games. Having been sent crashing out of the Italian Cup quarter-finals by Udinese in midweek, Milan were staring at a costly league defeat after struggling to level Marco Sau’s 28th minute opener. However Mario Balotelli launched the fightback with a superb goal from a free kick on 87 minutes and two minutes later Pazzini, who replaced Robinho on the hour, fired home a tricky volley from a corner.

Now ninth with a five-point deficit to fifth-placed Inter, Milan’s bid for a place in Europe has been given a huge boost and Pazzini, who has lingered on the injury sidelines for much of the past nine months, could not hide his joy. “After so much time it’s great to score such an important goal,” the striker told Sky Sport Italia. “Our team can do so much better. Seedorf helps us remain calm and shows faith in us so it’s up to us to repay that on the pitch.”

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