Edinson Cavani ended his recent goal drought with a brace in a hard-fought 3-2 win over Atalanta, which moved title challengers Napoli to within nine points of Serie A leaders Juventus today.
Cavani, who had not scored since a 2-1 away win over Parma at the end of January, calmed nerves early on at the San Paulo with a fourth-minute penalty after a foul on Juan Zuniga by Luigi Giorgi. Napoli should have gone 2-0 up soon after but forward Goran Pandev fired over from close range after a one-two with Marek Hamsik in a crowded box.
Moments later, Hamsik sent Cavani through on the right but the striker sent his chip past the onrushing goalkeeper Andrea Consigli and wide of the post Hamsik then directed a close-range header from Juan Zuniga's cross on the left just over and minutes later the Slovakian saw a shot from the edge of the area saved by Consigli. Those misses would prove costly when Atalanta levelled on the half-hour thanks to a Fabio Cannavaro own goal, the ball bouncing off the Napoli defender and into the net after a cross was aimed in towards German Denis.
However Cavani struck his second in the 65th minute, his 20th of the season, using classic poacher's skills to pounce on a loose ball in the area and fire home. Napoli were pegged back again when Denis latched on to a long through ball, held off defender Valon Brehami and rounded Morgan De Sanctis to send the ball past the head of Cannavaro on the goalline. But less than ten minutes later Pandev sealed the win when he scored Napoli's third from close range.
Balotelli hits for two
Elsewhere Mario Balotelli scored twice, including a eighth-minute penalty, as AC Milan beat Palermo 2-0 at the San Siro to send the Sicilian strugglers back to the bottom of the table. Balotelli gave Milan the lead from the spot after defender Salvatore Aronica had pulled the former Manchester City striker down in the box.
Milan should have extended their lead twice in the first half, first on 17 minutes when Kevin-Prince Boateng sent a rising shot over the bar when he was given time and space on the edge of the area. When Sulley Muntari collected Boateng's cross-field ball he fed Stephan El Shaarawy on the left, the striker could not get a proper shot away as he fell in a crowded box.
Palermo had claims for the expulsion of Colombian defender Cristian Zapata turned away despite the Colombian sticking his arm out to stop a through ball. El Shaarawy made way for M'Baye Niang 13 minutes into the second half and the French teenager capitalised to set Balotelli up for his second of the match. Given space to run down the left wing 18-year-old Niang fired the ball over for Balotelli, who pounced to smash the ball high into the net after the ball had deflected off a defender to land in front of Sorrentino.
Fiorentina did their hopes of clinching a place in Europe next season no harm with a 3-2 win over plucky Genoa at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, while Chievo moved two places up to 14th with a 2-0 away win at Pescara.
In the earlier game today, Siena and visitors Cagliari battled to a 0-0 draw. Sunday's late matches feature Rome-Parma and Torino-Lazio. Sampdoria-Inter was postponed due to heavy snow and rain.