Uruguay international Edinson Cavani put his travel nightmares behind him as he came off the bench to score a brace in a 5-3 win over Torino that sent SSC Napoli back into second place in Serie A on Saturday.
Leaders Juventus had earlier taken their lead over Napoli to 12 points after a comfortable 2-1 win over Inter at the San Siro in Milan, dropping the Nerazzurri to sixth place.
AC Milan then provisionally jumped up into second thanks to a 1-0 win away to 10-man AC Chievo Verona.
However, Napoli overcame a patchy first half to see Swiss midfielder Blerim Dzemaili score a sensational hat-trick, before Cavani’s late double sealed the victory in the closing stages.
Juvenus are now nine points ahead of Napoli, with Milan a further two points adrift and ACF Fiorentina, despite a 2-1 reverse away to Cagliari, fourth, one point ahead of SS Lazio, who beat Catania 2-1.
Despite most pundits claiming Juve have one hand on the title, coach Antonio Conte said nothing is won yet.
“It’s another step in the right direction, but Napoli and Milan won’t wait for us if we slip up, so we have to keep on winning,” said Conte, who led Juventus to the title last year in his first season in charge.
Napoli started with star striker Cavani on the bench after the Uruguayan’s midweek arrival from South America following World Cup qualifying was delayed due to problems with his flight.
However, the visitors opened the scoring in sensational fashion after just 10 minutes when Dzemaili met Lorenzo Insigne’s low corner with a first-time drive that gave Jean-Francois Gillet no chance.
Torino leveled against the run of play on the half hour.
A corner caused confusion in the Napoli box and when the ball broke free to the left of goal, Brazilian Vitor Barretto pounced to score his first Serie A goal since November 2010.
Napoli then spurned the chance to take the lead when Marek Hamsik missed from the penalty spot.
However, the visitors were soon back in front when Dzemaili scored his second with a sliding shot from the edge of the area.
Torino then leveled at 2-2 in the 74th minute thanks to Brazilian Jonathas’ penalty after the ball had come off the hand of Cavani and they took a shock lead four minutes later through Riccardo Meggiorini.
Only two minutes later, though, Dzemail put Napoli level when Juan Zuniga’s cutback was left untouched until the Swiss hit another first-time shot that Gillet could not save.
Cavani, who had replaced Insigne just after the hour, then gave Napoli the lead with a superbly hit free-kick which sneaked inside Gillet’s post four minutes later.
Serie A’s top scorer sealed the win with a 22nd league goal of the season when he rose to meet Pablo Armero’s cross to beat Gillet with a looping header on the stroke of fulltime.
Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri was happy with the points, but said: “We’ve grown as a team compared with last year, but a more mature team would have held onto it’s 2-0 lead until the end.”
“Instead, we have to make life difficult for ourselves,” he added.
With only a two-point difference, the battle for second place is now on and former Fiorentina midfielder Riccardo Montolivo warned it will not get any easier in the final matches of the season.
“We have to stay focused until the end of the season, as we’ve already played our joker card and we have make sure we don’t slip up,” said Montolivo, who poked home Milan’s winner after one of several Mario Balotelli free-kicks was parried in the 25th minute.
Milan face Fiorentina away next and Montolivo added: “I played for seven seasons in Florence, so it won’t be just another game for me, but in my mind the aim is to get the points to play in the Champions League next season and we need to get those points against Fiorentina, Napoli and Juventus.”
In other matches on Saturday, UC Sampdoria held Atalanta BC to a goalless draw, Genoa drew 2-2 with AC Siena, second-from-bottom US Citta di Palermo beat AS Roma 2-0, rock-bottom Delfino Pescara 1936 lost 3-0 at Parma and Udinese were held to a goalless draw by Bologna.
Additional reporting by staff writer