Inter Milan snatch draw as Napoli disintegrate
Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi shrugged off unwanted laser pen attention to beat Napoli `keeper Mariano Andujar from the spot with a cheeky `Panenka` to help secure a 2-2 draw for the Nerazzurri on Sunday.
Dominant Napoli looked to have wrapped up the win that would have taken them to within two points of Roma, who sit second in Serie A at eight points adrift of leaders Juventus, after second-half goals by Marek Hamsik and Gonzalo Higuain.
But Roberto Mancini`s men, who survived a first-half onslaught only thanks to goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, were handed a lifeline when Rodrigo Palacio reduced arrears on 72 minutes.
Icardi then levelled the game from the spot three minutes from time after Palacio was hauled down by Henrique as he ran down on goal.
It was the first time Napoli had dropped points at home since a 3-1 reverse to Juventus two months ago.
Napoli coach Rafael Benitez should have been less than satisfied, but after he and the players boycotted broadcasters Sky Sport, the Spaniard told Rai: "All credit to Inter. They had nothing to lose... we created so many chances and just didn`t capitalise.
"The lads gave it everything. The kind of intensity I saw tonight is what I want to see in our upcoming games."
Inter remain ninth, at 22 points behind Juventus and coach Roberto Mancini told Sky: "We were up against a great Napoli side with top forwards, but it was our mistakes that helped them create so many chances."
The last time Inter beat Napoli at the San Paolo stadium was in 1997 when the hosts suffered a 2-0 reverse.
But a month after Higuain struck in a 1-0 win over Inter to fire Napoli into the Italian Cup semis, the Partenopei were in no mood for seeing that record broken.
Napoli dominated from the outset and should have gone in for the break several goals to the good only for Higuain and Hamsik to spurn several chances each.
Inter resumed in similarly gloomy fashion after the restart when they gave away possession twice in succession, but both Dries Mertens and Hamsik wasted their respective efforts in front of goal.
Hamsik made amends for his miss moments later when he was left alone to send a glancing header past Handanovic from Henrique`s delivery from the right.
The goal woke Inter from their slumber and Icardi jumped high to meet Xherdan Shaqiri`s cross from the right only to see his header go a foot wide of Andujar`s upright.
Higuain`s frustrating night came to an end on 64 minutes when he curled the ball superbly around Handanovic and in off the post to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.
Napoli, however, paid for some late nerves.
Palacio fired past Andujar as the `keeper lay stranded following a tussle with Guarin to reduce arrears on 72 minutes. When Henrique dragged the Argentinian back by the shoulder, the referee pointed to the spot and gave the Brazilian his marching orders.
Napoli fans targeted Icardi with green laser pens as he waited to take the penalty, but the Argentinian responded in style, firing a Panenka-style chip straight down the middle as Andujar dived to his right.
Earlier, Roma coach Rudi Garcia admitted his worry after seeing his side hand title rivals Juventus a massive scudetto boost after being held to their eighth draw in nine consecutive league games.
"It was an ugly draw, not at all like all the other draws that have come before," Garcia told Sky Sport after Sunday`s scoreless draw at Chievo, who sit six points ahead of the drop zone.
"From tomorrow we have to improve. Today we were terrible, unrecognisable."
Juventus, the three-time consecutive champions, will take their lead to 11 points if they account for Sassuolo in Turin on Monday.
But days after a 2-1 defeat to Fiorentina in the first leg of their Italian Cup semi-final in Turin, coach Massimiliano Allegri warned: "Sassuolo are never an easy team to come up against and they`re dangerous in open space, with three formidable front men.
"We have to improve, stop conceding and work on our focus, because we`re on the home straight."