Uruguayan scores a tremendous treble to ensure Napoli closed the gap on Milan...
Napoli closed the gap on league leaders Milan with a comfortable 3-0 win over jaded Juventus this evening.
Edinson Cavani was the San Paolo hero as he scored a hat-trick of headers to move the Vesuviani to second in the table and cut the Rossoneri’s lead to four points, after Milan’s 4-4 draw at home to Udinese earlier in the day.
The match kicked off in the midst of a flare-induced haze caused by the fireworks let off by Napoli fans, who added to the atmosphere with deafening boos every time a Juventus player took possession of the ball.
However, the cauldron-like atmosphere was not matched by the action in the park in the early stages, as both teams rather cautiously felt their way into the match. In fact, in a slow opening ten minutes, the only occasion in which either goalkeeper was tested was when Christian Maggio forced Morgan De Sanctis to scramble across his goal-line to collect his powerful headed back-pass.
The match continued in this vein, with Alberto Aquilani’s powerful half-volley and Andrea Dossena’s low cross the only times that the goalkeepers were forced into action, until the match absolutely exploded into life in the 20th minute.
It was then that the criminally unmarked Cavani met Maggio’s cross from the right with a powerful downward header which evaded both Marco Storari and Leonardo Bonucci, who was on the line, to give Napoli a 1-0 lead.
And they almost added to that lead twice in the following two minutes. First, Marek Hamsik had a shot deflected inches wide of Storari’s right-hand upright with the goalkeeper beaten, and then Ezequiel Lavezzi forced the Juve stopper into a smart save at the same side seconds later.
The action then swung to the other end and Amauri drew a spectacular save from De Sanctis after he had brushed off the intentions of Gianluca Grava. The Vesuviani goalkeeper tipped the Brazil-born Italian international’s shot wide for a corner.
Luca Toni, making his debut for Juve after joining from Genoa, looked to have drawn his side level in the 23rd minute when he out-jumped De Sanctis to head home Simone Pepe’s resultant flag-kick, but the referee had, somewhat controversially, ruled out the goal for a foul by the giant striker.
The home side rubbed salt in Old Lady wounds when the extended their lead just three minutes later. It was that man Cavani again who beat Armand Traore in the air to meet a Dossena cross with another textbook header which flew into the net to make it 2-0.
Napoli took control from then on in and were particularly threatening down the left-hand side, with the axis of Lavezzi, Dossena and Michele Pazienza combining to torment Juventus right-back Zdenek Grygera.
There was no further scoring, however, and the home side had to be content to go in at half-time with a two-goal lead.
The visitors looked in determined mood on the restart and Toni tested De Sanctis with a glancing header from Claudio Marchisio’s clipped centre. But the 33-year-old Azzurri goalkeeper was equal to the effort and batted the ball away to safety.
Yet, despite Juventus’ lively start to the second 45, it was Napoli who scored again in the 53rd minute to put the result beyond doubt. This time Cavani stooped low to head Hamsik’s angled cross into the net after superb work by Lavezzi.
It could, and should, have been 4-0 and four goals for Cavani just over ten minutes later when Lavezzi danced past several challenges before attempting to find his fellow South American with an angled pass. However, Lavezzi was heavy with the final ball and Cavani could only stretch and send an awkward shot trundling towards Storari.
For their part, the Bianconeri saw more of the ball in the second half and threatened through a series of Alessandro Del Piero set-pieces, while Toni tested De Sanctis on two further occasions. But their efforts were to no avail and the home side held on to secure a huge 3-0 win over their title rivals.
No one was more delighted than goal-scorer Cavani, who left the field to thunderous applause when replaced by Jose Sosa in the 75th minute and was last seen disappearing into the bowels of the San Paolo with a huge grin while tightly clutching a match ball.
Both sides will continue to chase down Milan with home matches next weekend. Napoli welcome Fiorentina to the San Paolo on Saturday, while Juventus host bottom side Bari the following day.