Italian Serie A - Juventus hold Napoli to stay six points clear

Stadio San Paolo, Serie A – Napoli 1 (Inler 43) Juventus 1 (Chiellini 10)

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Italian Serie A - Juventus hold Napoli to stay six points clear
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Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini (R) heads to score against Napoli during their Italian Serie A soccer match at the San Paolo Stadium in Naples March 1, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi (ITALY - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Napoli and Juventus battled to a 1-1 draw as Serie A’s top two sides shared the spoils in an entertaining clash at Stadio San Paolo.

A manic opening 45 minutes saw Juve take the lead through a Giorgio Chiellini header before Napoli levelled thanks to a Gokhan Inler thunderbolt, although they were not helped by another poor showing from talismanic striker Edinson Cavani.

Both sides created multiple opportunities, with Mirko Vucinic and Blerim Dzemaili missing sitters, and while Napoli went for the visitors in the latter stages a draw was the fair result, leaving leaders Juventus six points clear of their main rivals.

Napoli have now just won four of their last nine, with Serie A top scorer Cavani failing to net in seven matches after his latest blank. He needs to rediscover his mojo soon, otherwise - aside from Napoli's relative woes - a dream move to one of Europe's biggest clubs could fail to materialise this summer.

The first half was the definition of an end-to-end affair with both sides at times throwing caution to the wind.

In the opening seconds Napoli’s Marek Hamsik finished wildly over the bar, while a few minutes later Juve’s Sebastian Giovinco stung the palms of Morgan De Sanctis.

Juventus had played the better football and took a deserved 10th minute lead when, after the hosts failed to clear a corner, Andrea Pirlo swung a glorious left-foot cross on to the head of a towering Chiellini, who beat Miguel Britos to bury his finish.

The Bianconeri were all over the home side but they did not add to their lead, as Vucinic headed wide before somehow failing to beat De Sanctis after Giovinco set up a simple finish.

But Napoli bounced back, dominating the latter stages of the half as Hamsik again mis-kicked a finish while Edinson Cavani was slow to react to fine crosses on a couple of occasions.

There was a worrying 60 seconds when Britos was knocked unconscious following a sickening clash of heads with team-mate Inler, but both the Uruguayan and the Swiss recovered to see out the half.

It was a good thing they did as, two minutes before the break, the hosts drew level in style when Inler fired a rasping drive into the top right corner from 25 yards, the ball taking a slight deflection off Leonardo Bonucci, but it was surely goalbound anyway.

There was a moment of controversy when Daniele Orsato failed to dismiss Cavani after his assistant spotted a forearm smash into the face of Chiellini, who was knocked out.

After advice from the linesman, Orsato booked Cavani, although Chiellini had provoked him with a hair pull - in which case Napoli should have had a penalty and both players should have been sent off for violent conduct.

The second half did not start at the pace of the first, with the first 10 minutes rather cagey as neither side took any risks.

But it burst back into life just before the hour mark as the hosts lay siege on Juve’s goal, Gianluigi Buffon making a fine save from Hamsik, and helped by his defence as they resisted a series of dangerous corners.

Although a Vucinic effort stung the palms of De Sanctis, the Bianconeri were now up against it as Napoli launched into waves of attacks.

And the hosts should have taken the lead when, with 16 minutes left, Hamsik’s drive was parried by Buffon but Dzemaili somehow put the loose ball wide.

It was a terrible miss and it seemed to knock the stuffing out of the hosts, who toiled in the latter stages as Juve improved, although Buffon had to be alert to tip over another Inler effort.

But there were few genuine threats on De Sanctis’s goal, meaning Juve remain six points clear of Napoli with 11 matches remaining.

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