A late Mario Balotelli spot-kick saved new AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf’s blushes in a 1-0 win over Verona Sunday, which handed the struggling Serie A giants only their sixth victory of the campaign.
Seedorf has been heralded as Milan’s potential saviour since former coach Massimiliano Allegri was sacked after a 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo last week left the Rossoneri 30 points behind leaders Juventus.
Despite a lightning start against Andrea Mandorlini’s high-flying visitors, Seedorf grew increasingly frustrated on the touchline as the hosts failed to convert a series of chances.
Brazilian Robinho hit the woodwork in the second half but Milan had to rely on Balotelli’s 82nd minute spot-kick after Kaka was fouled in the area to claim a welcome three points.
In the opening minutes Verona goalkeeper Rafael had to scramble to tip away a deflected cross while under pressure from Balotelli as Milan pressed. A minute later Kaka flashed a header wide.
With 12 minutes remaining Seedorf replaced Robinho with Andrea Petagna, but it was Kaka who helped make the difference when he tumbled in the area under a challenge from Alejandro Gonzalez.
The referee pointed to the spot and Balotelli stepped up to send Rafael the wrong way.
Alessandro Matri marked his debut for Fiorentina with a brace in a 3-0 win over Catania while Napoli were held and Inter slumped to defeat as torrential rain played havoc in Italy’s Serie A on Sunday.
Matri, AC Milan’s most expensive signing last summer, pledged to hit ten goals for La Viola when he signed for the Florence club in midweek having struggled to make an impact with the Rossoneri.
And the former Juventus striker took a big step towards fulfilling that promise with a first-half brace after Fernandez Mati had opened the scoring for the visitors.
Fiorentina’s 12th win of the campaign reinforced fourth place in the table and Vincenzo Montella’s men are now 15 points behind leaders Juventus, 4-2 winners over Sampdoria on Saturday, and seven behind second-placed Roma.
More importantly, Fiorentina are only three points behind Napoli, who occupy the third and last qualifying spot for the UEFA Champions League.
Napoli had been looking for a win at Bologna to stay in touch with the top two, especially after Roma’s 3-0 defeat of Livorno on Saturday.
But after Rolando Bianchi opened the scoring just after the half hour the former Manchester City and Lazio striker levelled on 90 minutes for the hosts to snatch a share of the points in a 2-2 draw.
Bianchi broke the deadlock with a glancing header from Alessandro Diamanti’s cross which beat Napoli goalkeeper Rafael on 37 minutes.
Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain came close to levelling after the restart when he dived to head Jose Callejon’s cross from six yards out only for his effort to flash wide.
Higuain made no mistake from the penalty spot, though, blasting the ball under Gianluca Curci’s crossbar on 62 minutes after Blerim Dzemaili had crumbled under a clumsy challenge from Panagiotis Kone.
A superb Curci diving save then kept out Dries Mertens’ free kick and, now with the momentum, Napoli finally pulled in front when Callejon pounced on a lost ball in midfield to surge ahead and beat Curci with an angled drive.
Napoli looked set for the three points after Bologna were reduced to ten men when Kone was cautioned for a second time after tugging Higuain’s shirt.
But Rafael Benitez’s men were made to pay for slack defending at the death, their defence failing to pick up Bianchi at the back post before the striker smashed the ball into the net.
Inter’s woes continued, meanwhile, with a 1-0 away defeat in rainy Genoa which left Walter Mazzarri’s men in sixth on 32 points, the same as fifth-placed Verona ahead of their trip to Milan later Sunday.
Luca Antonelli struck in the 83rd minute for Genoa to hand them only their seventh win of the campaign.
Elsewhere Alessandro Lucarelli hit an injury-time winner for Parma in precious 2-1 win away to struggling Chievo while Ciro Immobile and Matteo Brighi struck in either half for Torino in a 2-0 win away to Sassuolo.