Wed, Mar 19, 2014 - Page 18 News List

Totti on target as Roma close the gap on leaders

AFP, MILAN, Italy

AS Roma goalkeeper Morgan de Sanctis, left, catches the ball behind AS Roma defender Mehdi Benatia, center, and Udinese defender Danilo Larangeira in their Serie A match at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Monday.

Photo: AFP

Captain Francesco Totti scored on his return from a month-long injury layoff as AS Roma scraped a 3-2 win over Udinese on Monday to reduce the gap on leaders Juventus to 14 points.

Earlier, third-placed SSC Napoli had pulled level on points with Roma thanks to a 90th-minute strike from Gonzalo Hugauin which secured the points away to Torino.

However, Roma restored their three-point cushion on Rafael Benitez’s side after a tense finale caused by Dusan Basta’s 80th-minute header for the visitors.

Roma have reinforced their grip on second place, synonymous with the last automatic UEFA Champions League qualifying spot, but despite having a game in hand the Giallorossi remain 14 points adrift of Juventus, who had Andrea Pirlo to thank for an 89th-minute winner in a tense finale at Genoa on Sunday.

Totti welcomed his sixth goal of the season.

“It was nice to score, but the important thing was to win this game to make sure we stay in front of Napoli. We have to defend second place,” he told Sky Sport Italia.

“That was the most difficult encounter at home in 15 or 16 games. We got the points, but we made life difficult for ourselves,” Roma coach Rudi Garcia said.

Totti enjoyed a dream return to the Stadio Olimpico when he picked up the rebound from Gervinho’s close-range shot following Miralem Pjanic’s delivery and drilled past teenage goalkeeper Simone Scuffet.

Gervinho finally looked back to top form and eight minutes later a run down the right flank allowed the Ivorian to square for Mattia Destro, and although he had to round Scuffet the Italian found the net with a low angled strike.

Minutes later Antonio di Natale tested Morgan de Sanctis with a curling shot which the goalkeeper dived to parry.

The visitors finally reduced the arrears six minutes into the second half when Totti was dispossessed in midfield and the ball found Giampiero Pinzi, who took a few touches before beating De Sanctis with a smart angled strike from the edge of the penalty area.

The goal shook Roma, whose defense minutes later had to rely on the reflexes of De Sanctis to rush out and block Di Natale’s drive from close range.

At the other end, Totti’s shot under pressure spun wide of Scuffet’s upright and then Gervinho bundled wide under pressure from Silvan Widmer.

Vaseilos Torosidis gave Roma a much-needed cushion when he carried the ball through Udinese’s defense to beat Scuffet with a low shot inside the goalkeeper’s near post.

Roma looked to be heading for a comfortable win, but from a corner in the 80th minute De Sanctis had to pull off a one-handed save, before seeing Basta’s shot from the rebound fly by him and into the net.

Roma spurned the chance to put the match beyond reach when Pjanic set up Alessandro Florenzi, who replaced Totti on 72 minutes, but the forward’s effort was over.

In Turin, Napoli’s last-gasp win came with controversy after claims that Higuain had fouled defender Kamel Glik before beating Daniele Padelli with a strike that crept under the goalkeeper’s body.

Torino coach Giampiero Ventura has had plenty of reason this season to complain about refereeing decisions, having lost both derbies against Juventus due to a goal which looked offside and a penalty that was not awarded.

“I feel embarrassed for my players. I’m not going to talk about the injustices we’ve suffered, we just want this season to finish as soon as possible,” Ventura said. “We should have 10 points more than we do have.”

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