Juventus beats Fiorentina in Serie A as title defense gathers pace

Juan Cuadrado scored against his former club to help Juventus beat Fiorentina 3–1 in Serie A on Sunday.
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MILAN (AP) — Juan Cuadrado scored against his former club to help Juventus beat Fiorentina 3–1 in Serie A on Sunday, as the Turin club’s title challenge gathered pace.

Late goals secured a victory that came shortly after title rival Napoli was held to a goalless draw by Roma.

Mario Mandzukic fired Juventus in front 10 minutes from time and Paulo Dybala sealed the win as the four-time defending champion recorded a sixth consecutive league victory to leapfrog Roma into fourth.

Cuadrado had cancelled out Josip Ilicic's penalty in a frantic start at Juventus Stadium.

Juventus is six points behind league leader Inter. Fiorentina is second, four points off top spot, above Napoli on goal difference.

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“We are still far from the top but at the moment what's important is the spirit we have” Juventus coach MassimilianoAllegri said. “We have to continue on our path, and get a certain number of points to see if we manage to finish in the top three.”

Roma did not have a single shot on goal but almost snatched all three points. Daniele de Rossi had a goal disallowed on a tight decision 10 minutes from time as the cross was adjudged to have gone out of play.

“Roma wouldn’t have deserved to win, but we did score a goal. I respect the decision of the referee, as long as (he is sure) the ball had gone out completely—as the rules say,” Roma coach Rudi Garcia said.

Earlier, AC Milan was jeered off the pitch after a 1–1 draw against bottom club Hellas Verona.

Empoli eased to a 3–0 win over Carpi, and Chievo Verona had a penalty saved but still won 1–0 against Atalanta, which had two players sent off.

Fiorentina made a perfect start when Ilicic converted his sixth penalty of the season in the third minute, striking powerfully past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who had guessed the right way.

The referee had thought long and hard before awarding the penalty after Federico Bernardeschi burst into the box and fell under a Giorgio Chiellini challenge.

However, Juventus levelled after just three minutes and five seconds. Cuadrado sent a looping header into the far top corner from Patrice Evra's cross, although it may have been intended as an assist.

Cuadrado, who is on loan from Chelsea, was playing in his first match against Fiorentina since his departure last January and the Colombia midfielder did not celebrate.

Paul Pogba later put in a great through-ball for Dybala, whose effort was saved by Fiorentina goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu at point-blank range—but Mandzukic was on hand to tap in the rebound.

Dybala did get on the scoresheet in stoppage time after Davide Astori's attempt to close down Cuadrado saw the rebound fall kindly for the Argentina forward, who dribbled through the area before firing home.

Earlier, Roma managed to survive a Napoli onslaught.

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A solid defensive performance earned Roma only its third clean sheet in the league this season and prevented Serie A’s leading scorer Gonzalo Higuain from finding the net for a ninth consecutive home match—and breaking the club record which he shared with Diego Maradona.

Higuain had scored four goals in his previous two matches, but Roma managed to keep him quiet for most of the night.

The Argentina forward went close immediately after halftime but he just failed to get on the end of a cross from Faouzi Ghoulam.

Napoli should have won it in stoppage time when Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny—who had pulled off several key saves—could only parry Dries Mertens's effort but Omar El Kaddouri fired the rebound past the left post from close range.

In Milan, Luca Toni converted a penalty to level for Verona after Nigel de Jong had shoved Leandro Greco, cancelling out Carlos Bacca's opener.

De Jong—making his first appearance in more than two months—was sent off in that incident, leaving Milan with 10 men for 34 minutes.

Luiz Adriano had a goal harshly ruled out for offside for Milan, moments after the Rossoneri had been about to score—only for the referee to stop play for another controversial offside decision.

Milan could also have had a late penalty when Giacomo Bonaventura was brought down in the area.