Milan draw dents Napoli title hopes

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Milan20160224MILAN: Giacomo Bonaventura hit a first-half leveler as AC Milan boosted their hopes of European football next season in a 1-1 draw that dented Napoli’s title hopes on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).

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Napoli welcomed Milan to the San Paolo looking to capitalise on Juventus’s stalemate at Bologna on Friday — victory would have put them back on top.

But despite seeing Lorenzo Insigne provide a 39th minute lead with a deflected shot that just crept past teenaged goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Bonaventura pulled Milan level only five minutes later.

Napoli had the lion’s share of the best chances in the second half but Donnarumma was decisive in the dying minutes.

But Maurizio Sarri’s title challengers were forced to settle for a sixth draw of the season that has left them in second, one point behind Juventus.

Milan remain sixth, eight points behind third-placed Fiorentina in the last possible Champions League qualifying place.

Milan were given a special welcome by supporters of Napoli, who according to reports hit the Rossoneri team bus with stones on their way to the San Paolo.

But the incident failed to cow Sinisa Mihajlovic’s men, who, with 14 points from their opening six games of 2016, have only been bettered by Juventus (18) and Napoli (15).

Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly made two timely interceptions on Carlos Bacca and M’Baye Niang before Bonaventura saw a deflected effort fly past Pepe Reina’s near post.

At the other end, Jorginho and Insigne both curled shots over, while Gonzalo Higuain saw two chances thwarted by Cristian Zapata, the Colombian’s acrobatic overhead kick stopping him from going clear and a deflection sending Higuain’s angled shot wide.

Brazilian defender Alex then blocked a Higuain shot on the turn and Jose Callejon should have done better when he fired wide from only six yards while under pressure.

Milan were under the cosh but it took a deflection from a jumping Ignazio Abate for Insigne’s angled shot from just outside the box to bobble past a scrambling Donnarumma and into the net.

To their credit, Milan restored parity almost immediately. Callejon had failed to track back to pick up Bonaventura and when Koulibaly inadvertently nodded Keisuke Honda’s cross towards the back post, Bonaventura sent a volley past Reina.

In a balanced second half, Donnarumma was the busier of the goalkeepers.

Donnarumma, who will celebrate his 17th birthday on Thursday, did well to intercept Faouzi Ghoulam’s cross for Higuain as the Argentine ran in for goal.

Callejon was replaced by Dries Mertens just after the hour and only minutes after his arrival the Belgian international spurned a great chance when he struck Elseid Hysaj’s daisycutter off the far post.

Mihajlovic replaced a tiring Bacca with French forward Jeremy Menez.

Minutes later Higuain beat Zapata to a cross from the left to fire his deflected shot just wide of the upright.

When left-back Luca Antonelli blocked Mertens’s cross for Higuain, Milan launched a counter that saw Menez set up Niang but the Frenchman’s angled strike curled wide of the far post.

Mihajlovic replaced Niang with on-loan Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli for the last five minutes but it was Honda who tested Reina with a curling shot that forced the Spanish keeper to save low at his near post.

AFP

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