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Roma rout Torino to keep title dream alive

Roma’s forward Francesco Totti kicks the ball on February 19, 2017 © AFP / ANDREAS SOLARO

MILAN, Italy, Feb 19Edin Dzeko struck his 19th Serie A goal and Francesco Totti came off the bench with an assist as Roma kept their ‘scudetto’ hopes alive with a 4-1 win over Torino on Sunday.

Roma’s 18th win of the campaign saw Luciano Spalletti’s men leapfrog Napoli, 3-1 winners at Chievo, and return to second spot to sit seven points behind leaders Juventus.

Napoli, nine points behind Juventus, are six points ahead of both Inter Milan and Atalanta with Lazio and AC Milan boosting their European hopes with wins over Empoli and Fiorentina respectively.

“We were great tonight,” Spalletti told Premium Sport. “After our win at Villarreal we risked struggling to get into this game, but instead we showed our true qualities.”

Fresh from hitting his second successive Europa League hat-trick in Roma’s 4-0 romp at Villarreal, Dzeko got Roma off the mark on 10 minutes after collecting Radja Nainggolan’s pass to coolly beat Hart at his far post from the edge of the area.

With 19 goals in 25 games, Dzeko is tied with Gonzalo Higuain at the top of the scoring charts after the Argentina striker struck once in Juventus’s 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday.

A former teammate of Dzeko’s at Manchester City, Hart was in for a busy night in the Torino goal.

Napoli’s Marek Hamsik acknowledges the fans at the end of the Serie A match against Chievo in Verona, on February 19, 2017 © AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE

A Nainggolan volley was straight at Hart but he was powerless against Mohamed Salah’s superb volley from Dzeko’s failed attempt to control in the area.

Salah hit the far upright and Dzeko fired just over after the restart.

Torino fought back, Sasa Lukic’s volley coming close and Wojciech Szczesny forced to stop Marco Benassi down low.

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But all thoughts of a comeback were ended by Leandro Paredes’s stunning long-distance volley that sneaked inside Hart’s near post.

– ‘Running up stairs’ –

Totti was applauded when he replaced Kevin Strootman on 82 minutes, prompting a tactical change by Spalletti.

It was enough for Maxi Lopez, sidelined by coach Sinisa Mihajlovic for several weeks for being overweight, to fire an angled drive past Szczesny into the far bottom corner for a late consolation.

But when 40-year-old club captain Totti controlled a high ball in the area to lay off for Nainggolan, the Belgian unleashed a powerful curling drive that gave Hart no chance.

Spalletti added: “We need more leaders like Totti in this squad.”

Inter Milan’s forward Gabriel Barbosa Almeida celebrates after scoring a goal during the Italian Serie A football at the Dall’Ara Stadium in Bologna on Febuary 19, 2017 © AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE

Mihajlovic was almost inclined to agree.

“We were never going to cause an upset by winning here tonight because Roma are better than us and are undefeated at home all season,” Mihajlovic told Sky Sport.

“The quality of their players made the difference, to the extent that Hart, who wasn’t able to make one save, conceded four goals.”

Marek Hamsik moved to within three strikes of Diego Maradona’s Napoli record of 115 goals in a 3-1 win at Chievo, while veteran Zdenek Zeman steered Pescara to a first win since August in a 5-0 rout of Genoa.

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The Slovakia midfielder’s 112th was an easy tap-in seven minutes before half-time.

Pescara, meanwhile, will now harbour hopes of escaping the drop after Zeman, who replaced sacked Massimo Oddo in midweek, led the league strugglers to their first win in six months.

Zeman, however, said the task will be difficult and the players he inherited are unfit.

“I’ve only laid some basic foundations, but from tomorrow (Monday) we start working seriously, also with (running up) the stairs. They’re not in great condition,” said the chain-smoking Czech.

Fiorentina’s forward Federico Chiesa (R) clashes with AC Milan’s forward Gerard Deulofeu on February 19, 2017 © AFP / MIGUEL MEDINA

Earlier, 20-year-old Brazil international Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa came off the bench to hit his maiden Serie A goal for Inter Milan and secure a 1-0 win at Bologna that has boosted their Europa League qualifying hopes.

“I’m really happy, for my first goal and for this important win,” said Barbosa. “I hope it’s the start of something special.”

In Sunday’s late game, on-loan Everton midfielder Gerard Deulofeu struck a 31st minute debut winner as AC Milan edged Fiorentina 2-1 at the San Siro.

Fiorentina striker Nikola Kalinic responded to Juraj Kucka’s 17th minute headed opener with the leveller four minutes later.

But when Borja Valero lost possession in midfield, Deulofeu pounced to sweep a curling drive past Ciprian Tatarusanu.

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