Milan: Brazilian forward Kaka boosted his World Cup hopes by scoring his 100th and 101st goals for AC Milan in a welcome 3-0 win over Atalanta at the San Siro on Monday.
Kaka is one of several Europe-based stars hoping to nail a place in Luiz Felipe Scolari`s squad and did his chances a world of good with two well-taken goals that helped move struggling Milan up two places to 11th.
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, who on Sunday confirmed his departure from the club at the end of the season, had labelled the game a relegation dogfight and was relieved after Atalanta rattled the woodwork twice.
"There was only one point between us and we were only five points clear of the bottom three," said the 46-year-old coach.
"Atalanta had a few scoring chances in the second half but overall I don`t think we gave too many chances away. We should have defended better, but Atalanta are a strong side and (goalkeeper) Christian Abbiati did well."
Mario Balotelli, recovering from flu, started on the bench with Alessandro Matri spearheading the attack in Allegri`s preferred 4-3-2-1 formation, which also featured midfielder Bryan Cristante.
Former Valencia defender Adil Rami also made his debut while Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda, who arrived in Milan during the festive break, watched the game from the stands alongside club CEO Adriano Galliani.
Cristante, making only his second senior appearance, scored Milan`s third in the 67th minute to virtually secure what was only Milan`s second win in their past 10 games and fifth of the campaign.
Before then, Kaka led the charge, scoring his 100th goal for the club after collecting a pass deep on the left of the area to turn and beat Andrea Consigli with an angled strike at the keeper`s far post.
Matri made way for Balotelli just before the hour and the Italy striker played a role in Kaka`s second, holding off defender Giulio Migliaccio deep on the right to cross for Robinho.
When the ball bobbled in front of the unmarked Brazilian, Kaka promptly smashed the ball past Consigli from close range.
"That`s the best way to start 2014," said Kaka, who appeared at the post-match press conference with five-year-old son Luca in his arms.
"I`m glad to be a part of the club`s history."
Kaka was not alone in netting twice, Luca Toni hitting a first-half brace in a 3-1 win for Verona away to Udinese, which allowed the visitors to leapfrog Inter Milan into fifth.
Afterwards, Udinese`s talismanic striker Antonio Di Natale announced his imminent retirement.
"I`ve spoken to my family, and now I will speak to the club about it," said the 36-year-old Naples-born player, who has twice finished the league`s top scorer.
Elsewhere, Inter`s bid to reclaim fifth spot from Verona was foiled by an 81st minute strike from Miroslav Klose, which gave Lazio their first win under new coach Edoardo Reja following the recent sacking of Vladimir Petkovic.
Lazio`s 1-0 win at the Olympic Stadium moved the Biancocelesti up to 10th, with Inter now in sixth having taken only six points from their last six games.
Earlier, a brace from Belgian international Dries Mertens secured a 2-0 win for Napoli over Sampdoria, which pushed Napoli to within two points of second-placed Roma.
Napoli`s 12th win left them in third with a 10-point deficit to leaders Juventus, who went eight points clear of Roma with a 3-0 rout of the Giallorossi on Sunday.
Sampodoria had been unbeaten since former Serbia coach Sinisa Mihajlovic took over the helm but he admitted: "I have no qualms, Napoli deserved the win."
Ciro Immobile opened the scoring for Torino at Parma, only for the hosts to prevail 3-1 after goals from Marco Marchionni, Alessandro Lucarelli and Amauri.
Basement side Catania claimed only their third win, a 2-0 home defeat of Bologna, while Genoa won by the same scoreline at home to struggling new boys Sassuolo.