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Football: Cavani back on target as Napoli close gap to Juve

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Edinson Cavani ended his recent goal drought with a brace in a hard-fought 3-2 win over Atalanta which moved title challengers Napoli to within nine points of Serie A leaders Juventus on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Mario Balotelli scored twice, including a fourth-minute penalty, as AC Milan beat Palermo 2-0 at the San Siro to send the Sicilian strugglers back to the bottom of the table.

Fiorentina did their hopes of clinching a place in Europe next season no harm with a 3-2 win over plucky Genoa at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, while Chievo moved two places up to 14th with a 2-0 away win at Pescara.

With a nine-point lead and nine games remaining, most pundits believe Juve, who opened up a 12-point gap Saturday thanks to a 2-0 win away to on-form Bologna, already have one hand on the league trophy.

But despite a few jitters in mid-match Walter Mazzarri's Napoli gave the defending champions a reminder that their title bid is far from over.

"I'm happy for Cavani and for (Goran) Pandev after their goals but also for securing the three points," said Mazzarri.

"It remained close right up to the end and it was an edgy finish."

Mazzarri was then asked his opinion on speculation, reported Saturday by La Gazzetta dello Sport, that Cavani had not scored in over a month due to relationship problems.

"People's private lives need to be left well alone," added the coach.

"If he's doing something which is affecting his job then the club has to intervene, but the lad turns up on time every day to training, works hard and is attentive when we're discussing tactics.

"These are just rumours made up on purpose to destabilise us."

Uruguayan international Cavani, who had not scored since a 2-1 away win over Parma at the end of January, calmed nerves early on at the San Paulo with a fourth-minute penalty after a foul on Juan Zuniga by Luigi Giorgi.

Further chances were spurned by Pandev, Cavani and Slovak Marek Hamsik before Atalanta levelled on the half-hour thanks to a Fabio Cannavaro own goal, the ball bouncing off the Napoli defender and into the net after a cross was aimed in towards German Denis.

Cavani, however, struck his second in the 65th minute, his 20th of the season, using classic poacher's skills to pounce on a loose ball in the area and fire home.

Napoli were pegged back again when Denis latched on to a long through ball, held off defender Valon Brehami and rounded Morgan De Sanctis to send the ball past the head of Cannavaro on the goalline.

But less than 10 minutes later Pandev sealed the win when he scored Napoli's third from close range.

Balotelli gave Milan a ninth-minute lead from the spot after defender Salvatore Aronica had pulled the former Manchester City striker down in the box.

Milan should have extended their lead twice in the first half through Kevin-Prince Boateng and then Stephan El Shaarawy only for the pair to spurn their chances.

El Shaarawy made way for M'Baye Niang 13 minutes into the second half and the French teenager capitalised to set Balotelli up for his second of the match and seventh goal in only six games.

Given space to run down the left wing 18-year-old Niang fired the ball over for Balotelli, who pounced to smash the ball high into the net after the ball had deflected off a defender to land in front of Sorrentino.

Sunday's late matchces are Rome v Parma and Torino v Lazio. Sampdoria v Inter was postponed due to heavy snow and rain.

jd/cw

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130317/football-cavani-back-target-napoli-close-gap-juve-0