Milan squander Serie A leading role, Juve hit new low

ROME, March 21, 2010 (AFP) - AC Milan squandered the chance to leapfrog Inter and go top of Serie A after a 1-1 with Napoli on Sunday, while Antonio Cassano's 35-yard stunner gave Sampdoria victory over a sorry Juventus.

Milan's Filippo Inzaghi's 26th-minute header cancelled out Hugo Campagnaro's 13th-minute opener in an attacking encounter at the San Siro with both sides having chances to claim all three points.

"We're in a great position to fight for the title," said Milan coach Leonardo, whose side remain one point behind Inter and three above third-place Roma.

AC Milan's Brazilian forward Ronaldinho (R) gestures after a tackle with Naples' defender Gianluca Grava (L) during their Italian serie A football match AC Milan vs Napoli at San Siro stadium in Milan on March 21, 2010. AFP PHOTO

Inter, who had a 10-point advantage over their city rivals in October, were held to a 1-1 draw by Champions League hopefuls Palermo on Saturday.

"I can't reproach the boys for lacking desire but a lot of things are needed to win. I don't think today's result will have a major bearing on who wins the scudetto," added Leonardo, who had lost David Beckham and Alessandro Nesta to serious injuries in the week.

Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri, whose side are seventh, five points off the Champions League places, felt his team deserved better against a Milan outfit who were bidding to go top for the first time this season.

"We should have had it won by half-time but we just couldn't take our chances. We showed today that we are at the same level as Milan," said Mazzari.

Milan, who last won the title in 2004, were hit with a double blow inside the first 15 minutes.

The returning Alexander Pato limped off, while calamitous defending allowed Napoli to take the lead in the 13th minute.

Ezequiel Lavezzi's cross was side-footed into an empty net from 15 yards by Campagnaro as Christian Abbiati and Massimo Oddo collided at the near post.

But a piece of magic from Ronaldinho though helped Milan draw level on 26 minutes.

Celebrating his 30th birthday, the Brazilian clipped over the most inviting of crosses to present Inzaghi with a simple header to score from inside the six-yard box.

"There are ten games left to give it our all," said Ronaldinho.

"We need to take the positives from the game and keep our feet on the ground. If we do, the scudetto is a real possibility."

In the late game in Genoa, Juventus, who had conceded seven goals in the past two matches and were knocked out of the Europa League in midweek by Fulham, were undone by Cassano as Sampdoria jumped into fifth place, two points ahead of Juve and level with fourth-placed Palermo.

Back in the starting line-up for the first time in two months following Nicola Pozzi's injury, Cassano had three good chances in the first half to add to his three goals this season.

First he failed to control Giampaolo Pazzini's early centre, then saw his 36th-minute header nodded off the line by Claudio Marchisio before finishing weakly on 42 minutes when clean through against Antonio Chimenti.

But after Alessandro Del Piero had chipped over just before the hour, Cassano struck with a wonder goal to give Sampdoria the points.

Showing fine technique to take down a long ball, the forward instantly smashed a dipping 35-yarder that a surprised Chimenti could only help into the top corner.

"It's great to have the real Cassano back," said strike partner Pazzini. "It was a goal all of his own making."

Juve coach Alberto Zaccheroni admitted his side was low on morale.

"I felt we were controlling the game until Cassano's invention. The team hasn't had much luck this season with injuries," said Zaccheroni.

At the other end of the table, Livorno replaced Siena at the bottom after falling to goals from Simone Padoin, Javier Chevanton and Adriano Ferreira Pinto in a 3-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Atalanta.

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