Gonzalo Higuain leads Napoli to narrow win against Fiorentina
Gonzalo Higuain fired Napoli into third place in the Serie A table with a second-half winner in a 1-0 victory over Fiorentina at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
The Azzurri made an inconsistent start to the season but will now enjoy a week in the final Champions League berth after Higuain’s sixth league goal confirmed a second straight league win.
Fiorentina, who were strangely off-colour in front of their own fans, remain in 10th place after losing back-to-back games.
Napoli dominated the first half but could not quite put any of their numerous chances away.
Higuain was twice thwarted by Neto in the opening exchanges before the Fiorentina goalkeeper survived a speculative attempt from Marek Hamsik.
The Tuscans’ best opportunity came in the 19th minute as Khouma Babacar took aim from outside the box and smashed the ball just over the crossbar.
Napoli suffered an unwelcome setback when Lorenzo Insigne suffered an injury – the striker was replaced by Dries Mertens – but they nevertheless soldiered on in pursuit of the opening goal.
Higuain skipped past two defenders before shooting wide and Hamsik should have done more with Jose Callejon’s dangerous cross across the six-yard box.
Fiorentina were lucky to reach the break on level terms as Callejon whipped a drive just past a post in the 44th minute. There was still time for Higuain to find the back of the net, but he was offside.
The second half took a while to get going but an exchange of chances around the hour mark breathed fresh life into the contest.
Juan Cuadrado shaved paint off a post when aiming for the bottom corner and, at the other end, Hamsik shrugged off Nenad Tomovic to worry Neto with a low attempt.
Two minutes later Higuain capitalised on the new end-to-end dynamic by notching Napoli’s winner.
The Argentinian, who now has six goals from his last four league games, made the most of a poor clearance from Tomovic to rifle the ball under the bar.
Napoli knew they needed a second goal to confirm the result and so coach Rafael Benitez turned to Jonathan de Guzman, who scored a Europa League hat-trick against Young Boys on Thursday.
Before the Dutchman could make an impact, the hosts’ own substitute, Mario Gomez, rattled the bar with a header from Cuadrado’s cross.
De Guzman would almost turn provider in the 81st minute, his clever back-heel falling sweetly to Higuain in the D, but the former Real Madrid forward could not hit the target.
The outcome remained in doubt while the score remained 1-0 and Napoli’s nerves very nearly allowed Fiorentina to grab a late leveller.
As the Azzurri defence scrambled, Manuel Pasqual smashed a daisy-cutter through a packed box. Kalidou Koulibaly made a desperate goal-line clearance and all three points were safe.