Higuain hits 25th goal to maintain title push in Viola draw

Milan (AFP) –


Gonzalo Higuain claimed his 25th Serie A goal of the season as Napoli maintained their title push with a thrilling 1-1 draw at Fiorentina on Monday.

Napoli were under the cosh after champions Juventus stretched their lead at the top of the table to four points with a 2-0 win over hapless Inter Milan on Sunday.

But despite pushing La Viola hard in a thrilling encounter at the Artemio Franchi, a share of the spoils against a Fiorentina side that looks worthy of a top three finish to qualify for next season's Champions League left Napoli with no complaints.

Napoli remained in second place at three points behind Juventus, with Roma and Fiorentina both five points further adrift in third and fourth places respectively.

Fiorentina coach Paolo Sousa underlined his side's Champions League hopes on Sunday and after just six minutes they were in front when Marcos Alonso rose above the Napoli defence at a corner to send a glancing header past Pepe Reina.

But Alonso went from hero to zero in a matter of seconds.

From the subsequent kick-off that had all the hallmarks of a set-piece, Kalidou Koulibaly promptly fired a high punt into the Fiorentina area.

It forced 'keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu rushing out of his net, but when Alonso's first-time clearance failed spectacularly, the ball fell to Higuain, who had little trouble guiding the ball into the back of the net from 30 yards.

Having failed to score for three weeks, including two league games and two Europe League games, and come under criticism from club president Aurelio De Laurentiis for being "overweight", the Argentinian's exuberant celebrations were perhaps understandable.

Yet Fiorentina twice came close to silencing Napoli in spectacular fashion before the interval.

Nikola Kalinic was a constant thorn for Napoli and when the Croatian's pace took him on to a long through ball, Fiorentina looked to have their second goal on the half hour.

But after outpacing Senegal defender Koulibaly, Kalinic's shot came off the bar after sailing over the hands of Reina.

Minutes later Koulibaly's tackle on Matias Vecino saw the ball fall to Cristian Tello and the former Barcelona winger's footwork entranced Napoli's defence on his way to firing a superb curling shot off post and crossbar.

Fiorentina resumed where they had left off, the Viola's pacy passing and movement leaving Napoli ball-watching during the early exchanges of the second half.

But Napoli finally settled and gave the hosts a scare when Jose Callejon skipped past Davide Astori to unleash an angled shot that Tatarusanu did well to block.

The rebound fell to Higuain, but from 12 yards the Argentine saw the 'keeper produce heroics to keep the ball out.

It was end to end stuff and soon after Matias Fernandez tested Reina with a curling effort from the left corner of the area that forced the 'keeper down low as the ball whizzed past his post.

Higuain had the ball in the net five minutes from the end but the Argentine was immediately ruled offside.

Fiorentina threatened at the other end, where only Koulibaly's diving header stopped Kalinic from reaching Alonso's cross towards the back post as the hosts pushed for a late winner.

Tatarusanu then pulled off a great, late save to thwart Lorenzo Insigne after the lively winger had been set up deep on the left.