Tough battle in Italy Serie A title race

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AC Milan, Juventus and Udinese all won on Sunday to put daylight between themselves and the pack in the Italy Serie A title race.

Milan won 2-0 at Atalanta to remain level on points with Juve, who beat Lecce 1-0, but Udinese are just two points back after they thumped 10-man Cesena 4-1 earlier in the day.

Milan, who have a better goal-difference than Juve, had what on paper looked the toughest task of the day but they were given a helping hand in the first half.

Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato collided with Thomas Manfredini as the pair chased a loose ball in the box, with both crumpling to the ground.

The referee pointed to the spot and Zlatan Ibrahimovic shot home low to goalkeeper Andrea Consigli’s right.

Pato struck the upright in the second half before Atalanta also hit the post as a corner was flicked on by Simone Tiribocchi, touched by Matias Schelotto and then German Denis at the back post from a yard out just failed to turn it inside the woodwork.

Kevin-Prince Boateng scored the clincher eight minutes from time after being set up by Ibrahimovic, knocking the ball in off the bar from six yards.

At rock bottom Lecce, Juve won thanks to a horror error from home goalkeeper Massimiliano Benassi.

Mirko Vucinic’s shot from outside the box didn’t look too troublesome but Benassi failed to hold it and Alessandro Matri ran in to head home the rebound from barely two yards out.

Udinese went top for a couple of hours as captain Antonio Di Natale scored a brace, with Kwadwo Asamoah and Dusan Basta adding the other two goals.

Eder replied for the visitors, who had Maurizio Lauro sent off in the second half.

Udinese got off to a dream start with a goal on the counter-attack inside the first minute as Antonio Floro Flores was released down the right and in a flash he squared for Di Natale to nip beyond the backline and slot home.

Cesena were level on 39 minutes as Lauro’s cross from the left floated onto the bar, causing havoc in the Udinese defence, with Luca Ceccarelli heading the rebound into the danger area where Eder was fastest to react to poke home.

Udinese went back in front nine minutes into the second period and it was a goal that veteran goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli won’t want to see again in a hurry.

Ghana international Asamoah, who will now head off to the Africa Cup of Nations, hit his shot from 20 yards with power and swerve but it essentially went straight at the 42-year-old who somehow managed to flop out of the way of the ball and allow it in.

Seven minutes later Lauro was dismissed for a second booking for tripping Pablo Armero in full flight and Cesena’s task looked hopeless.

And 15 minutes from time Romanian full-back Basta sealed a comfortable victory with a stunning strike from distance that seemed to catch Antonioli by suprise as it dipped just inside the far post.

Late on Di Natale took a pass from Armero, turned smartly on the edge of the box and fired home into the top corner to add insult to injury.

Udinese are five points ahead of Lazio, who suffered a shock 4-0 defeat at Siena on Saturday, with Inter Milan, 5-0 winners over Parma, a point further back.

Roma kept up their Champions League hunt as captain Francesco Totti scored for the first time this season, his two penalties earning a 2-0 win over Chievo.

Fiorentina lined up at Novara without a single recognised striker but that didn’t stop them romping to a 3-0 win with Stevan Jovetic grabbing a brace, one from the spot, and Riccardo Montolivo scoring the other one.

Bologna beat Catania 2-0 to leave the bottom three six points adrift.

Italian Serie A results:

Atalanta 0 AC Milan 2
Bologna 2 Catania 0
Cagliari 3 Genoa 0
Lecce 0 Juventus 1
Novara 0 Fiorentina 3
Roma 2 Chievo 0
Udinese 4 Cesena 1

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