TURIN, January 25- Gonzalo Higuain struck his 21st goal of the season to help Napoli tighten their grip on Serie A with a 4-2 win at Sampdoria as Juventus’s 1-0 win over Roma threatened to be overshadowed by a racism row.
As Napoli battled to their 14th win of the campaign, Inter Milan paid the price for a series of first-half misses when Kevin Lasagna levelled at the death for Carpi to secure a 1-1 draw at a stunned San Siro.
Napoli now sit two points ahead of Juventus, who had Paulo Dybala’s 77th minute strike to thank for a 1-0 win in Turin that handed the champions their 11th league win on the trot, and have a six-point lead on Fiorentina after their 2-0 win over Torino earlier in the day.
Inter have dropped to fourth at six points adrift, further enforcing the pundits’ belief that Napoli and Juve are in a two-horse race for the title.
Juve’s win in Turin was marked by controversy with Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi accused of racially abusing Juventus’s Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic.
The bad-tempered affair got off to the worst possible start when Mandzukic crumbled to the ground in pain after a De Rossi stamp.
Internet reports claimed television cameras had caught De Rossi telling the Croatian: “Shut up, shitty gypsy.”
Roma coach Luciano Spalletti did not deny De Rossi’s comments, claiming Mandzukic had insulted his players throughout the game.
He said De Rossi’s only mistake was not to cover his mouth with his hand, a technique used by many players and coaches to conceal what they are saying.
“He (De Rossi) didn’t put his hand up to his mouth, but I will tell him to do that next time,” Spalletti said, after seeing Roma slip to 12 points off the pace.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri tried to play down the incident.
“I don’t know what De Rossi said to Mandzukic and I don’t know what Mandzukic said to De Rossi, but players regularly trade comments with each other during games,” said the Juve coach.
Meanwhile, Inter coach Roberto Mancini was furious with his misfiring strikers, lashing out after the game with Carpi: “I’m 50 years old and even I would have put some of those chances away.”
– Higuain best –
It had been a dramatic week for Mancini and Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri but as Inter slipped, Napoli put their title-winning credentials on show again.
Sarri was caught in the eye of a homophobic storm after calling fellow Mancini a “poof” during a post-match tirade following defeat to Inter in the quarter-final of the Italian Cup, prompting stinging criticism from Mancini and gay rights groups.
Inter only drew a line under the controversy on Friday by publicly accepting Napoli and Sarri’s apology, but by Sunday afternoon Mancini was wishing he had Higuain playing at the club.
“If he (Sarri) wants to loan Higuain to me, that’s fine by me,” added Mancini.
Higuain pounced in the ninth minute, the Argentinian collecting a poor Edgar Barreto back-pass to power towards the area and fire past onrushing Emiliano Viviano.
“Higuain is becoming what I always thought he should be, in other words the best striker in Europe and perhaps the world,” Sarri told Mediaset Premium.
“I wouldn’t even exchange him with (Bayern Munich striker) Robert Lewandowski.”
Another Barreto blunder helped Napoli double their lead by the 18th minute, the defender hauling down Raul Albiol and after the referee pointing to the spot Lorenzo Insigne stepped up to beat Viviano at his near post.
Napoli were pegged back when Joaquin Correa ran in and beat Pepe Reina first-time from 12 yards.
A superb piece of individual skill from Napoli captain Marek Hamsik helped Sarri’s men restore their lead, the Slovakian shimmying past three players inside the area to toe-poke the ball past Viviano at his far post on the hour.
Sampdoria pulled one back on 73 minutes when Eder rose to meet a corner to fire a glancing header through the legs of Reina, but six minutes later the match was effectively over when late substitute Dries Mertens took on two Samp defenders before beating Viviano with a low shot at his far post.