Inspired by Maradona, Mertens leads Napoli to win at Milan
ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 22, 2017 09:57 AM
FILE - A Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 file photo showing Argentina's soccer legend Diego Maradona watching the Davis Cup finals tennis singles match between Croatia's Marin Cilic and Argentina's Federico Delbonis in Zagreb, Croatia. Former Napoli star Diego Maradona is in talks to work with the Serie A side, where he is still idolized nearly 27 years after leaving the club. Maradona, who is in Naples for a theatrical event on Monday celebrating the club's first title win, met with Napoli President Aurelio de Laurentiis on Saturday night, Jan 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic, File)
DANIELLA MATAR, Associated Press
MILAN (AP) — Inspired by Diego Maradona's visit to training, Dries Mertens led Napoli to a 2-1 victory at AC Milan in Serie A on Saturday.
Mertens, who has often been compared to Maradona, provided two sublime assists to help Napoli race into a 2-0 lead, with less than 10 minutes gone at San Siro.
The 29-year-old Mertens also had several chances to extend Napoli's lead.
"He sacrificed himself tonight, he was brilliant in the first half-hour, giving chances to his teammates," Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. "But then he missed the goal three times in fairly easy situations.
"The lad is doing very well for the team. Tonight, it was a disappointment only because of the chances he missed. But we like Dries!"
Juraj Kucka reduced the deficit eight minutes from halftime and Mario Pasalic hit the crossbar but Milan, which had fought back from two goals down at Torino on Monday, couldn't find the equalizer.
Napoli moved level on points with second-placed Roma, which hosts Cagliari on Sunday. Milan remained fifth, seven points further back.
"There's a bit of bitterness because of how the lads played, we didn't deserve to lose," Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said. "But we're happy that we matched Napoli, which is in the Champions League and have been one of the top teams in Italy for several years now."
Maradona, who led Napoli to its only two league titles in 1987 and 1990, was in Naples for a theatrical event last week and turned up at Napoli's training session on Wednesday.
Napoli started brightly and had a penalty appeal waved away in the third minute when Mertens went down under Gabriel Paletta's challenge.
It took the lead three minutes later as Lorenzo Insigne latched onto a crossfield ball from Mertens and curled into the top right corner.
Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who was making his 50th Serie A appearance at the age of just 17, got a hand to the ball but couldn't prevent it from going in.
It got worse for Milan in the 9th as Mertens befuddled Gustavo Gomez and threaded the ball through for Jose Callejon to fire in from a tight angle, and through Donnarumma's legs.
The same two players almost combined for another goal in the 14th but Donnarumma rushed off his line in time.
Mertens should have scored himself on the half-hour but he prodded a weak effort into Donnarumma's arms after being sent clear by Allan.
Milan almost got back into the match in the 35th but Gomez headed Giacomo Bonaventura just past the right upright.
The home side did reduce the deficit two minutes later as a defensive mix-up between Jorginho and Lorenzo Tonelli allowed Kucka to race forward and fire into the bottom right corner.
Milan almost leveled two minutes into the second half but Mario Pasalic's header came off the crossbar.
Insigne went close to scoring a stunning goal shortly before the hour mark as he attempted to lob Donnarumma from midfield with his audacious chip sailing narrowly over the bar.
Mertens twice went close but he was denied by Donnarumma in the 70th, following a cross from Marek Hamsik, while Bonaventura sprinted back to tackle the Belgium international three minutes later, when he was clear on goal.
Donnarumma almost scored in stoppage time as he went up for a free kick but he headed it at Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
There was a touching moment from the Milan fans in the first half as they unveiled a banner in support of "the population of central Italy," which was hit by several earthquakes and an avalanche this week.
CHIEVO VERONA 0, FIORENTINA 3
Fiorentina romped to victory in Verona, securing its second win over Chievo in as many weeks.
Paulo Sousa's side had narrowly beaten Chievo 1-0 in the Italian Cup on Jan. 11, thanks to a dubious, last-gasp penalty from Federico Bernardeschi.
There was no doubt about the result this time.
Cristian Tello took advantage of a defensive error to fire Fiorentina in front in the 18th and Chievo also gifted the visitors the second goal. Fabrizio Cacciatore needlessly tripped Federico Chiesa and Khouma Babacar converted the resulting penalty seven minutes into the second half.
Chiesa scored his first goal in Serie A with practically the last kick of the match.
Fiorentina moved up to eighth, while Chievo remained 12th.