Napoli, Juventus play 1-1 draw in Serie A

Indo Asian News Service

Naples, April 3 (IANS) Napoli dominated five-time defending champions Juventus but couldn't force a winner as they played out a 1-1 draw in a high-octane Serie A football match at the San Paolo stadium here.

Sami Khedira's seventh-minute strike gave Juventus an early lead on Sunday but Napoli displayed beautiful attacking football to equalise through Marek Hamsik in the 60th minute in one of the pulsating fixtures in Italian season.

With the historic rivalry between the two sides, and fostered by the Argentine Gonzalo Higuain's controversial move in the summer to Turin in a record 90 million euro ($98.9 million) deal, the match was billed as the grudge match. Higuain returned to Naples for the first time since the Juventus switch and the Argentine was welcomed with jeers and boos by Napoli fans.

Juventus caught a fine start as they executed a perfect counter-attack with just seven minutes played as Khedira and Miralem Pjanic exchanged passes on the edge of the area with the German driving past goalkeeper Rafael.

Napoli, playing at home, upped the ante and came out with series of attacks. Hamsik saw his drive deflected out for a corner before Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini headed Jose Callejon's cross over the bar while under pressure from Dries Mertens.

Close to the half-time, winger Lorenzo Insigne cut into the box and curled one just inches wide of Juventus' far post.

Insigne fired wide again before Callejon bundled into the net only to be correctly flagged offside.

Napoli got the deserving equaliser in the 60th minute when Hamsik received Mertens' ball before slotting into the top corner, giving Gianluigi Buffon no chance.

Napoli almost made it 2-1 three minutes later, as Mertens pounced on a poor back pass from left-back Kwadwo Asamoah. Mertens saw off an onrushing Buffon but his push hit the right post from a tight angle.

Juventus experienced backline of Cheillini and Leonardo Bonucci came under further pressure but managed to take the Turing giants to the draw.

Following the draw, Juventus hold a six-point lead over second-placed Roma with eight rounds to go. Napoli, with 64 points from 30 games, remain 10 points behind Juventus and four ahead of fourth-placed Lazio.

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri said that he was happy to have earned a point in a difficult match.

"Part of winning league titles is getting big points from these matches. We started well, but after we took the lead we stopped playing a bit. Napoli produced a good performance and we have to hand it to our opponents," Allegri told Juventus' website.

"At times our decision making wasn't good enough in possession, but I was expecting the kind of difficulties we faced. This is an important result. It wasn't an easy night for us, but the lads were relaxed throughout and defended in a very organised way."

Naplo coach Maurizio Sarri said that they stamped their authority on Juventus, who are knwon for their rock solid defensive structure. "To impose your game against @juventusfcen is not easy: that's why we regret we didn't get the three points," Sarri said, according to Napoli's Twitter handle.

--IANS

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