Milan, Juve keep dreams alive

AC Milan and Juventus kept their title hopes alive ahead of next week's crunch clash between the pair by both winning on Sunday and cutting the gap to leaders Inter Milan back to six points. Inter's 3-0 victory at Lazio on Saturday had heaped pressure on their nearest two challengers. While both toiled for long periods, they eventually eked out important wins, Milan succeeding, 1-0, at home to Catania and Juve winning, 2-1, at Lecce.

Milan began their match against the Sicilians in the middle of a paralysing injury crisis. With players such as Ronaldinho, Andrea Pirlo, Marco Borriello, Clarence Seedorf, Massimo Ambrosini and Alessandro Nesta on the treatment table a patch-work Milan took to the field at the San Siro.

Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti claimed those problems could derail his team's scudetto hopes. "It's clear that this Milan team doesn't have enough to catch Inter," he said. "Right now they're playing the best football, they're the team with the most consistency. First of all we need to get back all our injured players, we'll get some back during the week. Most of all we need our central midfielders back to be competitive against Juventus."

The two teams played out an entertaining if scoreless first half with the recalled Andrei Shevchenko sending a header just over the bar early on. Just before the quarter-hour mark Giuseppe Mascara hit the post for the visitors with a terrific shot from outside the area that had Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati beaten. Moments later the woodwork was struck up the other end as Albano Bizarri tipped Kaka's curling effort onto the post.

Milan enjoyed the better of the chances. Shevchenko should have done better when played in by Kaka but, apparently lacking confidence, he tried to play the ball back to the Brazilian rather than shooting. His pass was deflected away for a corner. Teenage Brazilian forward Pato was next to try his luck but Bizarri tipped his thunderous free-kick over the bar on 64 minutes. From the resulting corner, however, Milan took the lead with Kaka's header from Pato's dead ball flicking off Lorenzo Stovini's toe to deceive Bizarri. Chances kept coming quickly after that as the game opened up, but Mascara came closest to scoring with a diving header that Abbiati turned around the post for a corner.

In Lecce, Juve were hamstrung by the absence of forward Alessandro Del Piero but it was his understudy, Sebastian Giovinco, who scored on 57 minutes. Giovinco, a reported target of West Ham, stepped up 12 minutes into the second half to smash a free-kick into the top corner. That looked like it would be enough to earn Juve the three points, but Lecce piled on the pressure and equalised.

Jose Ignacio Castillo should have done so 10 minutes from time but directed a header from inside the six-yard box over the bar. Daniele Cacia steered home a shinned left-foot volley three minutes later to seemingly earn the southerners a share of the spoils. Juve kept fighting and Brazilian Amauri headed home a Paolo De Ceglie cross from close range in the last minute to give the visitors three points.

Juve boss Claudio Ranieri admitted it would be difficult to catch Inter but said he hadn't given up hope. "The scudetto? We continue to believe. We don't want to let up. We can win the title," he said. "Inter have started making life difficult for the chasers but we want to fight on to the end."

Napoli remained fourth with a 2-0 home win over Siena while Fiorentina moved up to fifth with a 4-1 victory at Torino. Veteran Christian Vieri came off the bench to score his first goal of the season for Atalanta as they inflicted a fifth straight defeat on Udinese, 3-0.