Leaders Juventus fought back
from two goals down to draw 3-3 away to Napoli in a thrilling
game at the San Paolo stadium on Tuesday with Pepe grabbing a
late equaliser as they extended their unbeaten start to the
Serie A campaign.
Goran Pandev struck twice for the hosts but Pepe popped up
with the goal that salvaged a point after a barnstorming run as
Juve piled on the pressure to stretch their lead over AC Milan
to two points after 12 games with Napoli up to sixth on 17.
Marek Hamsik, having missed an early penalty, headed the
home side in front midway through the first half before Pandev
doubled their lead just before the break.
Alessandro Matri pulled a goal back for Juve just after the
interval but Pandev struck again to put Napoli 3-1 ahead.
The visitors then staged a fightback with Marcelo
Estigarribia poking the ball home after 73 minutes before Simone
Pepe completed the comeback 11 minutes from time.
Bianconeri boss Antonio Conte praised his side's "inner
strength" when they were behind.
"Without heart, you don't come back in games like these," he
told Italy's Sky Sport channel. "We were a bit soft in the first
half but the boys showed they wanted it tonight."
Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri, whose side remain nine points
behind Juve, complained that his team could not last the pace
after their exertions in the Champions League.
"I view the glass as half empty not half full with this
result," he told Sky Sport.
"It was a spectacular first half but we collapsed after the
break because we're playing twice a week and just didn't have
the energy that they had to pressurise at the end."
Juventus, without the suspended Claudio Marchisio from the
side that won 1-0 at Lazio on Saturday, started well with Mirko
Vucinic finding space inside the penalaty area before pulling
his shot wide after seven minutes.
But it was the home side, backed by loud support from
another full house in the capital of Italy's south, who were
gifted the chance to break the deadlock seven minutes later when
Andrea Pirlo brought down Ezequiel Lavezzi inside the box.
Hamsik fired the perfect penalty into the corner but after
wild celebrations he was ordered to retake it after encroachment
and the Slovakian blasted his second kick over the bar.
The controversial moment appeared to fire Napoli up and they
took the lead after 22 minutes when Lavezzi's free-kick fell to
Hamsik on the edge of the six-yard box and the midfielder made
no mistake with a diving header.
Pandev, starting in place of the injured Edinson Cavani, had
two fine chances to double the lead in as many minutes.
Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon had to be at full stretch to
save the Macedonian's low skidding shot from the edge of the box
after 26 minutes before the striker shanked his near-post effort
wide after superb approach play from Lavezzi.
Five minutes before half-time the dangerous Pandev got his
reward, latching onto a another ricochet inside the area before
applying a low finish across Buffon's to put Napoli 2-0 ahead.
Juventus were handed a lifeline three minutes into the
second period when Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal was allowed
acres of space to pick out Matri inside the box and the in-form
Italy striker calmly slotted home.
But Napoli restored their two-goal lead after 68 minutes
when Pandev controlled Christian Maggio's difficult cross before
swivelling to brilliantly volley the ball in off the post.
Five minutes later, though, Maggio went missing in defence
allowing Estigarribia plenty of time to control Matri's cross
and poke the ball under the diving Morgan De Sanctis for the
Paraguayan's first goal in Italian football.
With the bit between their teeth, the Bianconeri poured
forward and Pepe took advantage of a lucky break after a
powerful run to sidefoot home a deserved equaliser after 79
minutes for his third goal in as many matches.
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