SERIE A

Higuain reaches 33 goals, Toni says ta-ta with a ‘Panenka’

Gonzalo Higuaín brought up his 33rd strike of the season for Napoli while Luca Toni bid farewell to the game with a cheeky 'Panenka'.

Higuain reaches 33 goals, Toni says ta-ta with a ‘Panenka’
MARCO BERTORELLO AFP

Gonzalo Higuaín's 33rd strike of the season maintained Napoli's bid to secure Champions League football as evergreen striker Luca Toni bid farewell to the game with a cheeky 'Panenka' in Verona's shock 2-1 win over 10-man Juventus.

Roma, looking for a third consecutive runners-up spot after Juventus clinched a record-equalling fifth consecutive title, had piled the pressure on Napoli with a 3-0 thumping of Chievo earlier on Sunday. It gave the Giallorossi a one-point lead on the Azzurri ahead of a tough encounter at Torino, but having already lost out on a first title in 26 years Napoli are not letting second place, and a chance to return to Europe's premier club competition, slip so easily.

Higuaín broke the deadlock on 12 minutes and José Callejón doubled Napoli's lead before half-time. Although Bruno Peres reduced arrears on 66 minutes Napoli survived a late push to clinch the points. It bumped Maurizio Sarri's men back up to second place with a two-point lead on Roma, who face a tough trip to AC Milan in their final game of the season next Sunday, when Napoli host already-relegated Frosinone.

Higuaín only last month returned from a three-match ban that has curtailed his bid to at least equal Gunnar Nordahl's all-time record of 35 goals in a 20-team Serie A season, a feat the Swede achieved with AC Milan in 1950. The Argentine underlined his intentions early on with a superb strike that Daniele Padelli palmed round the post. Although Torino complained after Andrea Belotti's goal was correctly flagged offside, Napoli were soon in front.

Marek Hamsik delivered a pinpoint pass that Higuaín swept past Padelli and into the far bottom corner to become the first player to score 33 goals in Serie A since Antonio Valentin Angelillo in 1958-59. When the Slovakian midfielder was allowed to race to the left byline eight minutes later and whip in a cross for Callejón, the thankful Spaniard blasted low past Padelli at the back post.

Higuaín should have had his second after muscling his way across the edge of the area but his right-foot strike hit the bottom of the upright. Napoli could have put the match beyond reach before the interval but after Lorenzo Insigne and Faouzi Ghoulam forced Padelli into action, Hamsik blasted over the crossbar.

After the interval Higuaín hit the woodwork a second time when his drive skimmed the crossbar, but Torino reduced arrears just after the hour when Peres pounced on Giuseppe Vives's cross to lob Pepe Reina, who got a hand to the ball before it hit the net. Torino tried to push for a late equaliser but instead finished with 10 men after Vives saw red for a second bookable offence at the death.

Toni, meanwhile, was the toast of Verona after bringing down the curtain on his storied career with a cheeky 43rd-minute 'Panenka' chip that beat second-choice Juve keeper Norberto Neto. With perhaps one eye already on their Italian Cup final against AC Milan on 21 May, Juventus conceded a second on 55 minutes when Federico Viviani found the net from the edge of the area.

Juventus, who had not conceded two league goals since a 3-2 win over Carpi in December, finished with 10 men after Alex Sandro saw red for a second yellow card. The visitors scraped a late goal thanks to Paulo Dybala's spot-kick, after Filip Helander had shoved Simone Zaza to the ground.

Earlier on Sunday, fans turned out to pack the Stadio Olimpico as Francesco Totti made his 600th Serie A appearance with Roma. It could have been the 39-year-old's final game at the Olimpico amid hesitation from the club to offer a 24th and final year of contract. Only Inter Milan legend Javier Zanetti (615) and AC Milan great Paolo Maldini (647) have made more appearances in Italy's top flight.