Parma picked up a big win away at the Stadio San Paolo on Saturday evening, with Napoli unable to respond to Antonio Cassano's late goal. The partenopei's second consecutive defeat means they could be as many as seven points adrift of league leaders AS Roma by the end of the round. Parma, meanwhile, move provisionally into the top half of the table.
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The first half was a tense affair, with the best opportunities created largely on sporadic counter-attacks. The best early chance of the game came to Napoli's Gonzalo Higuaín when he swept the ball from under the feet of Parma defender Felipe dal Belo in the penalty area, though his vicious shot was acrobatically saved by Antonio Mirante.
Less than five minutes later the crociati had charged up the other end of the pitch and crafted out what was arguably an even better chance, though somehow a free Nicola Sansone skewed Mattia Cassani's low cross wide of the gaping target. Both sides looked defensively fragile, with Napoli's back four error-prone and Parma's midfield, lacking a true defensive player, being frequently caught too high up the pitch.
Even so, a mixture of last-ditch tackles, ungainly offensive fumbles and good saves combined to ensure no first half goal was forthcoming. Parma keeper Mirante guaranteed he wouldn't be getting a Christmas card from Higuaín with another close-range stop just short of the half-hour, minutes before his opposite number Pepe Reina impressively tipped away Marco Parolo's venomous long-range effort.
The breakthrough almost came inside five minutes of the start of the second half, though Parma defender Felipe, somehow tangled in his own limbs, put Antonio Cassano's cross wide of the near post. With Napoli growing ever more frustrated, Rafael Benítez reluctantly threw Marek Hamšík into the match -- initial hopes of saving him just for Borussia Dortmund in midweek dashed.
However, not even the appearance of the partenopei's star playmaker broke Parma down. Higuaín thought he'd headed his side into the lead from a corner just inside the final 20 minutes, only for his goal to be correctly ruled out for offside seconds later. The hosts' frustrations were exacerbated even further after Hamšík limped off injured just minutes after coming on.
If you thought things couldn't get any worse for the hosts, they did. Some appalling defending from Miguel Britos inside the final ten minutes saw Cassano afforded ridiculous amounts of space as he strode purposefully towards the Napoli box. Britos backed off and backed off, and FantAntonio gratefully dispatched his shot inside Reina's far post. The partenopei had no reply, with the match finishing 1-0.
Napoli: Reina; Armero, Britos, Albiol, Maggio; Inler (Zapata 87'), Behrami; Insigne, Pandev (Hamšík 68' [Mertens 77']), Callejón; Higuaín.
Parma: Mirante; Gobbi, Felipe, Lucarelli, Cassani (Benalouane 72'); Parolo, Marchionni (Acquah 75'), Gargano; Sansone, Cassano, Biabiany (Paletta 86').
Goals: Cassano (81').