It's strange to think that a game in which a last-minute goal gave Napoli the win over Cagliari wouldn't actually be the most thrilling match in Serie A on Sunday, but it's tough to beat out Palermo's Josip Illicic scoring an equalizer in added time that might keep his side in Serie B. Then there was the match in Florence, with Torino coming back from 3-0 down to pull even, only to have Fiorentina score a late winner, keeping their Champions League dreams alive.
But for Napoli, that late goal by Lorenzo Insigne could be the most important strike of the season. It gives the partenopei a temporary seven point lead over Milan, who are set to face Juventus in the final match of the weekend. Should the rossoneri fail to get a result in Turin, Napoli may have just booked themselves a direct flight to next season's Champions League.
Napoli are the masters of making every match look as difficult as possible, and Sunday's affair was certainly no exception. Right from the start it was clear that Walter Mazzarri's men knew just how important it was to get a win -- but they didn't quite know how to achieve such a result. In the third minute, Marek Hamsik sent a sexy backheel through to Goran Pandev, but the Macedonian wasted the chance, failing to pass on to Christian Maggio and scuffing his own shot.
The hosts created even more work for themselves when they let Cagliari go ahead before twenty minutes were up. Paolo Cannavaro conceded a corner, and Edinson Cavani was unable to clear the resulting ball. Instead it fell straight to Victor Ibarbo, and the Cagliari forward wasted no time in delivering a sharp shot past Antonio Rosati.
Rather than respond immediately, as they did last week against Milan, Napoli decided to take a cutsey approach. Just after Cagliari scored, the partenopei put forth a great little maneuver, with Cavani, Hamsik, and Pandev exchanging passes. But they took just one pass too many, allowing Michael Agazzi to rescue easily. Then, in the 30th minute, another exchange of passes between Cavani ended with El Matador attempting a bicycle kick, which, of course, flew well wide of the target.
Just after the restart, the visitors decided to give Napoli a little help (perhaps they're not Milan fans?). Hamsik's shot deflected off Cagliari captain Davide Astori, flying into the back of the net. Wild celebrations ensued -- that is, until the referee called back the goal. Heated discussions ensued, but ultimately it was decided that Cavani, in an offside position, had not interfered with the goal and it could stand.
In the 64th minute, Cavani got his own back, scoring his first goal in three matches. However, the real credit goes to Cannavaro, who controlled the ball wonderfully before letting off a sizzling shot. Agazzi couldn't keep control, and the ball fell to Maggio, who simply gave it a little nudge to allow Cavani to tap in.
Napoli didn't have long to rejoice, however. By the 71st minute, Cagliari had pulled level once again. Valon Behrami fouled Victor Ibarbo, handing a golden chance to the visitors. It was Marco Sau, on for Thiago Ribeiro just minutes before, who stepped up to take. Cagliari's top scorer made no mistakes, sending in an absolutely beautiful shot that floated over the head of Rosati to settle in the back of the net.
Napoli's desperation started to show. The partenopei had a great chance to take the lead, with Hamsik poised to head on substitute Pablo Armero's cross. But Cavani got himself in the way, taking the power from Hamsik's attempt. Minutes later, Agazzi pulled off a fantastic block on Cavani to keep the scoreline level.
It was almost as though Napoli had planned for a last-minute, dramatic victory. After all, this is the side that invented "Mazzarri-time" two seasons ago. So the stage was perfectly set for the young Lorenzo Insigne, on in the 78th minute, to grab all three points for his side -- with the help of Radja Nainggolan, whose attempt to block gave the ball just enough deflection to send it spinning past Agazzi and into the net.
Napoli: Antonio Rosati, Miguel Britos, Paolo Cannavaro, Alessandro Gamberini (Pablo Amero 54), Juan Zuñiga (Emanuele Calaiò 88), Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili (Lorenzo Insigne 78), Christian Maggio, Marek Hamsik, Edinson Cavani, Goran Pandev
Cagliari: Michael Agazzi, Nicola Murru, Davide Astori, Luca Rossettini (Lorenzo Ariaudo 45), Gabriele Perico, Albin Ekdal, Radja Nainggolan, Daniele Dessena, Victor Ibarbo, Nenê (Matias Cabrera 57), Thiago Ribeiro (Marco Sau 68)
Goals: Ibarbo 18 (C), Astori og 48 (C), Cavani 64 (N), Sau 71 (C), Insigne 90 (N)