Late Giuseppe Mascara goal is not enough as Denis and Gokhan Inler score to help Champions League chasing Udinese stun second-placed Napoli on Sunday evening
Shop the latest footy kit
Udinese served a huge blow to Napoli's Serie A title aspirations while boosting their own Champions League hopes with a 2-1 triumph in the San Paolo tonight.
Gokhan Inler and former Napoli hitman German Denis both scored with second-half strikes to leave Napoli six points behind leaders AC Milan while firing their own side to within one point of current fourth placed side Lazio.
A miserable night for the hosts was complete when Edinson Cavani wasted a chance to spark a late comeback when his 89th minute penalty was saved by Samir Handanovic. A miss that was given further significance when substitute Giuseppe Mascara netted a 95th minute consolation.
In a match that promised so much, there was little to write home about in a surprisingly sterile first-half in which defences were on top.
That dearth of quality attacking play can, in part, be put down to the absence of Udinese star forwards Antonio Di Natale and Alexis Sanchez, both of whom were ruled out due to injury.
Argentinian Denis was charged with leading the line in their absence, and made a decent start when he chested down Pablo Armero’s deep cross and fired off a snapshot that Morgan De Sanctis did superbly well to block with a fine one-handed save.
Napoli, on the other hand, were at full strength, but their attacking triumvirate weren’t quite at their sparkling best.
Edinson Cavani was the pick of the three. Napoli’s top scorer was just off target with two quick-fire efforts around the 12-minute mark, and although he should have probably tested Samir Handanovic, he was did threaten.
After that initial burst in the first quarter of an hour, the match stuttered along as both sides struggled to break each other down, while the game continually stopped and started due to a seemingly never ending stream of fouls.
The next and final chance of the half eventually arrived in the 40th minute when Cavani fizzed a low cross into the danger area and Ezequiel Lavezzi prodded goalwards with an outstretched toe.
Handanovic was in no mood to concede at such a late stage, however, and flung up an arm to flip the ball over the top and thereby ensure that the sides would go in goalless at the break.
The match sprang to life in the second half, and despite early Napoli dominance, it was Udinese who took the lead in spectacular fashion.
Inler accepted Giovanni Pasquale’s pass inside and strode forward before unleashing an unstoppable, swirling drive from 35 yards which arced away from De Sanctis and into the top right-hand corner.
Five minutes later and it was, rather amazingly, 2-0. Pablo Armero burst past Paolo Cannavaro down the left-hand side, and picked out Denis, who was lurking at the far post, with a precision cross. The former Napoli striker did the rest, cushioning the ball down with his chest and then rifling off a stunning angled strike which arrowed into the net.
From then on in, Napoli surged forward in wave after wave of attack to try and salvage their disappearing Scudetto hopes.
Christian Maggio bulleted a close-range header against the crossbar with 15 minutes left before an explosive ending in which Maurizio Domizzi was shown a red card for holding sub Cristiano Lucarelli inside the box; Cavani saw his resulting penalty saved and Mascara scored last-gasp goal which would, in the end, simply prove to be a late consolation.
Next weekend, Napoli face a trip south for a difficult match against Palermo in Sicily in a fixture they absolutely have to win if they have any realistic ambitions of overhauling AC Milan.
For Udinese, meanwhile, another victory when they host Parma on Saturday afternoon will do their Champions League hopes the world of good.