Italian Serie A title rivals close in, Milan stumble
Rome: AC Milan were held to a 1-1 draw at lowly Lecce as three of their title rivals bagged late winners to close in on the Serie A leaders on Sunday.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a wonder goal to give Milan the lead in the south east only for Uruguayan Ruben Olivera to snatch a share of the spoils for relegation-threatened Lecce.
Milan`s lead at the top was pegged at four points from Napoli, who were held to a goalless draw at home to Fiorentina on Saturday, and Lazio who enjoyed a late winner against Sampdoria.
But after the Swede played another starring role, coach Massimiliano Allegri denied his team is over-reliant on Ibrahimovic.
"We`re just trying to exploit Ibra`s immense quality. What he did today was a thing of extraordinary beauty," he said.
"I`m sorry we dropped points, we conceded a goal in the only way we could lose one."
"In the first half we didn`t create much but in the second, after the goal, we played well and had many chances."
"We`ve still got a four-point lead, there`s a long way to go but after this draw we need to be calm because the players are in good shape."
In a low-key first half, Gennaro Gattuso hit a daisy cutter just wide for the visitors.
The hosts had the ball in the net on 38 minutes but it was ruled out for a foul by the diminutive Jeda when he outjumped Thiago Silva to win a header.
Ibrahimovic then waltzed through the home defence only to have his shot blocked.
However, it was the big Swede who opened the scoring on 49 minutes with a moment of brilliance.
He took a long ball down on his chest, had a quick look over his shoulder and then hit a stunning volley-come-lob over goalkeeper Antonio Rosati.
Lecce almost levelled but Milan goalkeeper Marco Amelia made a reaction save to deny Guillermo Giacomazzi from point blank range.
David Di Michele then had a shot deflected onto the post before the hosts deservedly equalised from the resultant corner as Olivera finished smartly on the turn eight minutes from time.
Milan almost hit back immediately as Clarence Seedorf`s goalbound shot was deflected behind for a corner.
Substitute Antonio Cassano then crossed for Ibrahimovic but Rosati made an instinctive save while the Swede then headed over in injury time from a Cassano free-kick.
Lazio, Roma and Juventus all snatched late winners to keep their title hopes alive.
Libor Kozak headed home a Christian Ledesma free-kick six minutes from time to earn third-placed Lazio a 1-0 win at home to Sampdoria.
Lazio coach Edy Reja was relieved his side came away with the win following last weekend`s home defeat to Lecce.
"The important thing was to take home three points and find a bit of serenity" he said.
Roma left it even later and needed a scrappy own goal a minute from time from Maximiliano Pellegrino to steal a 1-0 success at Cesena.
Marco Borriello hit the bar with goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli saving Adriano`s follow-up before Simplicio turned the ball back into the danger area where Pellegrino inadvertently prodded it in.
Roma coach Claudio Ranieri praised his side`s fighting spirit.
"We never gave up, not even a yard and I`m happy when the team keeps fighting to the end," he said.
Juve gave themselves slightly more breathing space as on-loan Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani netted a volley from the edge of the box 11 minutes from the end in a 2-1 defeat of rock-bottom Bari.
Veteran forward Alessandro Del Piero had given Juve the lead before Gergely Rudolph equalised.
Roma are six points off Milan with Juve one further back but the biggest threat is increasingly looking to come from champions Inter Milan who are nine points back after their 4-1 win over Bologna on Saturday, but with two games in hand.