ROME (Reuters) - AS Roma's Serie A title challenge all but fizzled out on Sunday when they lost 3-1 to arch-rivals Lazio despite being awarded a hugely controversial penalty which overshadowed the game.
Referee Daniele Orsato pointed to the spot after Kevin Strootman went down in the Lazio penalty area but replays showed that the Dutchman was not touched by any Lazio player.
Strootman touched the ball once, turned and then went down in the penalty area although it was not clear whether it was a deliberate dive or he was just trying to get out of the way of a tackle from Lazio's Wallace.
Daniele De Rossi converted the spot kick in the 45th minute to cancel out Keita Balde Diao's 12th-minute opener for Lazio amid furious protests.
Fourth-placed Lazio restored what they saw as justice when Dusan Basta scored with a deflected shot five minutes after the restart and Keita finished off a deadly counter-attack to complete the win with his second goal of the game.
Second-placed Roma's defeat left them nine points behind leaders Juventus with four matches left to play. Juve have 84 points with Roma on 75, Napoli on 71 and Lazio, virtually assured a place in the Europa League, 67.
It was Lazio's first league win over Roma since November 2012, a run of seven matches.
Roma brought on 40-year-old Francesco Totti for the final 20 minutes for what could be stalwart's last derby, if he does not renew his contract at the end of the season.
Lazio coach Simeone Inzaghi said that the referee had admitted making the wrong decision during the halftime interval.
"He admitted the mistake at halftime and we accepted it," he told reporters. "Of course, it's easier to accept mistakes when you win games.
"Orsato, along with Nicola Rizzoli, is the best referee in Italy," he said, adding that everyone made mistakes.
"I also missed lots of goals when I was a player."
Antonio Ruediger completed Roma's misery when he was sent off in stoppage time.
Relegation-threatened Palermo, who would have gone down if they had lost to Fiorentina, instead earned themselves a stay of execution with a 2-0 win over the Violets.
Alessandro Diamanti put the Sicilians ahead with a free kick in the first half against the run of play and Haitam Aleesami scored the second in stoppage time after a brilliant solo run.
Palermo, one place off the bottom and on their fifth coach of the season, have 19 points, although they are still 10 adrift of Empoli and safety.
Empoli, who are 17th, remained in danger when they lost 3-1 at home to Sassuolo, leaving them only four points ahead of Crotone who held AC Milan to a 1-1 draw.
Marcello Trotta gave Crotone an eighth-minute lead and sixth-placed Milan needed a scrambled goal from defender Gabriel Paletta early in the second half to earn a point.
Chievo won 2-1 at Genoa, Bologna beat Udinese 4-0 and Cagliari beat relegated Pescara 1-0.
(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon)