Napoli’s Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuain celebrates after scoring at Rome’s Olympic Stadium. (AFP/Filippo Monteforte)
MILAN: Gonzalo Higuain hit a brace as Napoli crept closer to second-placed Roma in Italy’s Serie A with a 4-2 win away to Lazio on Monday.
Napoli’s 10th win left them in third spot but after Roma’s fourth consecutive draw on Sunday, Rafael Benitez’s men are now only three points behind the Giallorossi and six off leaders Juventus.
“It was a crucial fixture for us,” Higuain, who now has seven league goals this season, told Sky Sport Italia. “We didn’t want to get distanced at the top of the table. I’m happy for myself but also for the team.”
Benitez added: “It was a difficult match for us, we had to show character and determination and we did in the end. This is how we should play every match.”
With only one win against Napoli in their last five games, and having taken only eight points in their last eight outings, Lazio were desperate for a morale-boosting first success since a 2-0 defeat of Cagliari at the end of October.
But despite containing Napoli in a balanced first half, the Biancocelesti were punished after the break when Goran Pandev and Higuain struck in clinical fashion to give the visitors a 3-1 lead 18 minutes from time.
Despite reducing the arrears two minutes from time thanks to teenager Keita Balde, slack defending allowed Jose Callejon to hit Napoli’s fourth in injury time to send Lazio down one place to ninth, with AC Milan moving up to eighth.
Napoli broke the deadlock in the 24th minute when Higuain muscled his way into the area and brushed off a challenge from Frenchman Michael Ciani to send a shot past Federico Marchetti at the goalkeeper’s far post.
Napoli’s joy was tempered barely a minute later when defender Valon Behrami rushed in and sent the ball past his own goalkeeper to gift Lazio the equaliser.
Higuain thought he had restored Napoli’s lead on 37 minutes, only to be ruled offside after pouncing on the rebound from Lorenzo Insigne’s strike.
Napoli lived dangerously for the rest of the half, a slip-up by Gokhan Inler just inside the area gifting Hernanes possession, only for the Brazilian to strike off target.
Hernanes threatened again two minutes after the restart with another off-target shot.
But only three minutes later Napoli restored their lead when Christian Maggio headed down for Pandev near the far post, the Macedonian spinning round to beat Marchetti down low from close range.
In the 73rd minute Higuain collected Pandev’s ball on the right and sped past Lorik Cana to slam the ball into the net.
Napoli were given a scare three minutes from time when Keita was allowed to run across the area before beating Reina with a fine, right-footed strike.
However Lazio were guilty of more defensive lapses in injury time, when Callejon ran on to a through ball from late substitute Dries Mertens to leave Marchetti with no chance.
Earlier, Fiorentina beat 10-man Verona 4-3 in a seven-goal thriller to tighten their grip on fifth place and pull level on points with fourth-placed Inter Milan.
“I’m happy with the performance but we need to be more clinical,” said Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella.
“At 4-2 up we had five or six chances to put the game beyond reach but instead we wasted them.”
Borja Valero scored a brace for the hosts, who also saw Giuseppe Rossi take his league-leading tally to 12 from 14 games from the penalty spot after Bosko Jankovic saw red for handling in the area.
Peruvian midfielder Juan Vargas had given Fiorentina a 3-2 half-time lead after Romulo and Juan Iturbe had struck for the visitors.
Despite their numerical disadvantage Jorginho reduced the arrears in the 72nd minute for Verona.