Football: Hot-shot Honda fires Milan up to fourth in Serie A

MILAN (AFP) - Japan international Keisuke Honda struck a brace in a 3-1 win at Verona to go top of the Serie A scoring charts on Sunday, as AC Milan moved up to fourth.

Milan travelled to the Bentegodi stadium looking for their second successive win having accounted for another Verona-based side, Chievo, two weeks ago.

Filippo Inzaghi's visitors were given a helping hand in the 21st minute when Brazilian Rafael Marques, one half of a centre-back pairing which included Mexican international Rafa Marquez, skewed a volley into his own net from Ignazio Abate's cross from the right.

Milan were 2-0 up six minutes later when Stephan El Shaarawy, given a rare start on the left of a three-man forward line spearheaded by Spaniard Fernando Torres, found Honda in space on the right with a long ball from midfield.

Honda had time to run unmarked towards goal before curling a first-timer past Verona keeper Rafael.

Verona striker Luca Toni came close to reducing arrears with an acrobatic effort minutes later but Christian Abbiati pulled off a remarkable save to parry at his near post.

The goalkeeper was at full stretch again just after the half hour to push away Bosko Jankovic's header.

If Verona's defence had been conspicuously absent on Honda's first goal, they were even more so 10 minutes after the restart when the Japan international was left in acres of space.

Moroccan defender Adil Rami fired a low pass from just over the halfway line and Honda ran in practically unhindered to dink another left-footed shot over Rafael.

Verona grabbed a late consolation when Nico Lopez powered past Sulley Muntari before cutting in to beat Abbiati.

Milan are now only five points behind leaders Juventus, held 1-1 at Sassuolo on Saturday, while Roma put three unanswered goals past Chievo to reinforce second spot and reduce their deficit to a point.

Sampdoria, in fourth, spurned the chance to close the gap on Roma after taking a 2-0 first-half lead at Cagliari thanks to Manolo Gabbiadini and Spanish midfielder Pedro Obiang.

Cagliari were given hope of a fightback 13 minutes into the second half when Fabrizio Cacciatore saw red for a second bookable offence and Cagliari defender Danilo Avelar stepped up to slam the spot-kick into the top right hand corner of Emiliano Viviano's net.

The pressure on Cagliari coach Zdenek Zeman eased somewhat when Marco Sau fired a late leveller after superbly controlling Avelar's quickfire pass into the area.

Elswhere, Palermo moved off bottom spot after Giancarlo Gonzalez's precision header secured a 2-1 home win for the Sicilians against Cesena.

Fabio Quagliarella's 62nd-minute strike was enough to secure a 1-0 home win for Torino against Udinese, while in Bergamo Yiadom Boakye bundled home a 90th-minute winner to secure a 1-0 win for Atalanta against Parma.

Parma now sit bottom of Serie A with six defeats and just one win in seven games.

Earlier, Serbian international Filip Djordjevic scored his fifth goal in three games as Lazio grabbed a precious 2-0 win away to misfiring Fiorentina.

Lazio sit sixth, seven points off top spot, with Fiorentina in ninth place at 10 points off the pace.

Inter Milan will look to get back to winning ways following two heavy defeats when they host Napoli in Sunday's late clash at the San Siro.