Two red cards and a late penalty miss contributed to a dramatic match at the Stadio San Paolo on Sunday as Juventus beat second-place Napoli 2-1 to continue its seemingly unstoppable march toward a record-extending eighth successive Serie A title.
“We have a 16-point advantage and a superior head-to-head record,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “It’s undoubtedly a significant advantage, but we still have to wait to be mathematically certain. I think we still need five or six victories to win the title.”
Juventus appeared to be cruising when it went in at halftime 2-0 up, and with a man advantage after Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret was sent off for a foul on Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Miralem Pjanic _ scorer of the first goal _ was also dismissed at the start of the second half and Jose Callejon pulled one back for Napoli. Lorenzo Insigne then hit the post for the home team with a penalty six minutes from time.
The match had turned in the 28th minute when Ronaldo intercepted Kevin Malcuit’s poor back pass and went down on the edge of the area as Meret came rushing out to challenge.
Although it was debatable whether Meret touched Ronaldo, referee Gianluca Rocchi showed a straight red card to the Napoli goalkeeper for his recklessness as it denied a clear scoring opportunity.
“It’s a very controversial incident,” Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “Certainly he didn’t touch him, but it could be a thing of intent. It’s not so clear this direct red, it’s not a given that Cristiano would have got to the ball.
“The red seems over the top to me. There’s the VAR and the referee should have looked at it again _ why else do we have it?”
Pjanic curled the resulting free kick into the net and Emre Can doubled Juve’s lead 11 minutes later with a close-range header.
Napoli was given a way back into the match when Pjanic was shown a second yellow card for handling two minutes into the second half.
The hosts reduced the deficit in the 61st as Callejon got ahead of the Juventus defenders to tap in Insigne’s cross.
Napoli laid siege to the Juventus goal and thought it had got its rewards when it was awarded a penalty for an Alex Sandro handball, but Insigne’s effort rebounded off the post.
Fabio Quagliarella added another memorable chapter to his spectacular season by scoring two goals and hitting the woodwork twice in Sampdoria’s 2-1 win at Spal.
Quagliarella netted with an acrobatic volley from 10 yards (meters) after four minutes. Then he rose above a defender for a textbook header to add another goal seven minutes later.
The 36-year-old forward made it 19 goals this season, matching Cristiano Ronaldo atop the Serie A scoring chart.
Spal had a goal from Sergio Floccari taken away by the VAR, prompting its hard-core “ultra” fans to walk out mid-match. The hosts eventually scored in added time through Jasmin Kurtic.
Amid emotional scenes at the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, Atalanta beat Fiorentina 3-1.
Every Serie A match this weekend was interrupted in the 13th minute to remember Fiorentina captain Davide Astori ahead of Monday’s first anniversary of his death from a cardiac arrest, at the age of 31. The defender used to wear the No. 13 shirt.
Several players were in tears on Sunday as applause rang out from both sets of fans and banners were displayed in tribute to Astori, who was from near Bergamo _ where Atalanta plays its football.
Torino moved into contention for the Europa League places with a 3-0 win over last-placed Chievo Verona.
Also, Udinese beat fellow struggler Bologna 2-1 and Frosinone drew 0-0 at Genoa.