MILAN • Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri hailed the match referee for suspending their Serie A clash away to Lazio on Wednesday after fans targeted French-born Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly with racist chants.
"I have to compliment the match referee because the situation was becoming embarrassing," Sarri said in comments to Mediaset Premium. "The lads all felt sorry for Koulibaly.
"But I think he took it all in his stride because he is very intelligent, has a good head on his shoulders and was being helped by his team-mates.
"Though I do think the suspension did affect his focus."
Napoli had taken a 2-0 lead thanks to Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain, who has now hit 23 goals in as many league games, and Jose Callejon by the time the match was stopped for three minutes by match officials.
In Italy, stiff "anti-discriminatory" laws mean that league officials can temporarily halt or even end games prematurely if certain insulting behaviour is not brought under control.
Monkey noises seemingly aimed at Koulibaly were heard on several occasions in the second half at a sparsely-attended Stadio Olimpico, although Napoli's players and Naples itself were also targeted.
The match finished 2-0 for Napoli, who maintained a two-point lead over champions Juventus.
Juventus beat Genoa 1-0 in Turin for their 13th straight league victory, breaking a club record for consecutive league wins in a single season.
Lazio midfielder Ogenyi Onazi, who is from Nigeria, refused to believe Lazio's fans are racist.
"Impossible," he added. "When I'm playing I don't hear what's being said because I'm concentrated on my game."
But Lazio may face sanctions and, to add to their problems, Stefano Pioli's men dropped one place to ninth.
The Lazio coach said: "If I was the referee I wouldn't have stopped the game. Obviously, these chants are not good, people need to be civil and show respect.
"But I don't think they were racist in nature, even we have black players.
"There was some kind of confusion.
"I'm not trying to excuse what happened, but we're giving too much importance to a minority."