Serie A - Di Natale fires Udinese to win
A first-half strike from Antonio Di Natale was the only goal as Udinese defeated Palermo 1-0 in Serie A at the Stadio Friuli.
The talismanic striker volleyed Dusan Basta's beautiful early cross home seven minutes from half-time, and was only denied more by the woodwork and some strong defending from the away side forcing him into tough angles.
And the Eagles had opportunities of their own to snatch an equaliser, particularly in the second half, but were unable to take the clean sheet away from the impressive Samir Handanovic in goal.
Pablo Armero hit the post 15 minutes from the end in one of several counter-attacks as the hosts strived to kill the game off, but in the end the solitary goal was enough to take them back to second ahead of Milan.
After a 10-minute feeling out period by both sides, it was the Udinese skipper who provided the first real chance of the game when he turned superbly on Antonio Flores’s clever square pass into the ‘D’ and curled a drive beyond Alexandros Tzorvas - only to be denied by the crossbar.
The hosts turned the heat up just shy of the 20-minute mark when Mauricio Isla moved into the danger zone from the right only to try to pick out Di Natale instead of shooting at goal, allowing the defenders to intercept and recover.
Within seconds, Isla did a far better job of playing provider with an incisive low cross to meet the impressive run of Kwadwo Asamoah, who really should have beaten Tzorvas from 10 yards but instead fired directly at the keeper.
Eran Zehavi forced a decent parry from Samir Handanovic shortly before Dusan Basta chipped agonisingly wide of the upright in a one-on-one with Tzorvas in an end-to-end middle portion of the first period.
The breakthrough eventually came on 38 minutes at the end of some sturdy Udinese possession, with Basta launching an inch-perfect early cross from the right flank to meet the low volley of Di Natale, which found its way into the back of the Palermo net despite the best efforts of Tzorvas.
The away side almost replied immediately when Fabrizio Miccoli was picked out, onside, inside the hosts’ box but the striker’s hesitation and poor control allowed Danilo to rescue his side from potentially squandering their lead within a minute.
At the other end, Di Natale almost bagged a brace in as many minutes with a lob attempt over Tzorvas which, much like Basta’s similar effort earlier in the half, narrowly went the wrong side of the far post.
Isla had a pair of serious chances to double the Little Zebras’ advantage in the early stages of the second period, on both occasions his powerful low efforts being blocked well by Tzorvas.
Coming on for Eros Pisano in an attacking change for the trailing men in pink, Josip Ilicic had a claim for a penalty turned down when he appeared to be upended by Danilo in the Udine area just before he could shoot at goal.
And after Di Natale failed with a couple of attempts to add to his own tally, the industrious Armero came closest of them all when Palermo sent too many players up in search of a leveller.
Breaking at lightning pace, Armero found himself with only the keeper to beat only for his confident low strike to cannon back off the near upright with Tzorvas beaten.
Zehavi and Mauro Cetto should have done better with close range shots at the death as Udinese held on to keep their stronghold on an automatic Champions League qualification slot while the defeat sees Palermo drop to ninth.