When the ball left Marek Hamsik’s foot everybody held their breath. It looked like the shot which might draw Napoli back to within two points of Juventus at the top of the table. But Sergio Romero – and one of the goal posts at the Stadio San Paolo – ensured they would not take full advantage of the Bianconeri’s Saturday night slip-up in Rome.
The day only got worse for the Slovakian when his watch was stolen by two gun-toting robbers. It was not the first time he has suffered such an incident but, at least, he will be able to buy another one. Chances to get back on the trail of La Vecchia Signora might not be so easy to acquire.
It was an opportunity missed in Serie A’s long weekend which will actually not be concluded until Monday night. Walter Mazzarri’s men looked edgy, as if the significance of defeating Sampdoria was weighing heavy upon them. A pitch more lumpy than school-dinner custard did little to help their cause.
The San Paolo playing surface is expected to be completely returfed but it would be the cause of significant regret if they end up missing out on the title by a couple of points. Sporting director Riccardo Bigon was right to point out that they are still in the hunt for the Scudetto – especially with a home tie to Juve to come in a fortnight. Nonetheless, failure to beat Samp was a bit of a blow.
It was a missile-like strike from Francesco Totti which had handed Napoli their chance to narrow the gap. In their hour of need, the Giallorossi know they can count on their most inspirational figure. He did not let them down when Juventus came to town.
It was not a defeat which pleased Antonio Conte. He pointed out that playing three big matches in the space of the week had taken its toll, but was also disappointed with the way his team performed. Their grip on the Scudetto, unlike that of Stephan Lichtsteiner on Gary Hooper in the Champions League, has loosened a little.
The Bianconeri boss is not a man who leaves you in much doubt about his feelings. He called for all his players to report for duty at 8am on Tuesday, clearly wanting to get to the heart of the causes of their defeat in Rome. He seemed to suggest that some players might have been a bit more tired than they were willing to admit.
Behind the top two, and with Lazio still to play, the battle for that last Champions League spot was taken up a notch by the weekend results. Milan sent out their warning signal to the rest with a triumph over Parma sealed, of course, by a Mario Balotelli goal. The former Manchester City man could hardly have had a better impact on Serie A. If only Silvio Berlusconi could find some loophole to sneak him into the Champions League squad.
That result put pressure on city rivals Inter in the fight for third place which they were unable to cope with. Andrea Stramaccioni called his Nerazzurri “too ugly to be true” after they were dismantled 4-1 in Florence. With Diego Milito suffering a season-ending injury midweek, they hardly head to the Derby Della Madonnina on Sunday in high spirits.
The scoreline, of course, threw the Viola back into contention for Europe’s biggest competition. Vincenzo Montella tweaked his formation to an effective 4-3-3 and it allowed Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic to shine. They both grabbed doubles to crown one of the best team performances the Florentines have put in this season. Now they need to string a couple of good results together.
Sunday night’s win allowed the boys in purple to stretch away from the impressive Catania who had earlier clocked up yet another win at home to Bologna. Rolando Maran’s side have finally admitted that they are aiming a little higher than mere Serie A survival. “We can’t hide any more,” said President Antonino Pulvirenti. “We owe it to the city and the fans to try to stay onboard that train of dreams which could take us into Europe.”
Udinese may have blown their chances of continental football after they had their wings clipped by Genoa. The victory allowed the Rossoblu to breathe a bit more easily above the relegation zone. A four-point gap is not enough for them to relax, but it is a whole lot better than it looked at one stage this season.
Around them Torino scored an important win over Atalanta while Chievo and Palermo shared a point which will have been more welcome by the former than the latter. But the final word must go to Cagliari who managed a morale-boosting win in the week their President Massimo Cellino ended up in jail.
A group of fans went to lend their support by listening to the game outside Buoncammino prison where he finds himself at the moment. The future of the club is intertwined with the outcome of the case against him in the accusation of fraud in the construction of the Is Arenas stadium. But Italian teams have shown before they can flourish in adversity – and the Sardinians look like they might also be on the right path in that regard.