Vidal fires Juventus to 29th Italian title

ISCHIA, Italy (AFP) - Arturo Vidal's 10th league goal of the season was enough to secure a 1-0 win over Palermo and help ten-man Juventus to their 29th Serie A title on Sunday.

Juve, however, courted controversy when several players brandished giant shields in the colours of the Italian flag and adorned with '31'.

The number was a reference to Juve's belief that they have won 31 titles, despite being officially stripped of two league crowns several years ago due to their implication in a match-fixing affair.

"We've taken a weight off our sholuders," said goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon. "After winning the title last season, to finish second would have been a huge disappointment."

Juventus now have a 14-point lead over second-placed Napoli, who, even in the event of a win over Inter Milan later Sunday, can not overtake the Turin giants in the final three games of the season.

Juve coach Antonio Conte spent the first four months of the season in the stands serving a ban for his alleged implication in a match-fixing affair at his former club, Siena.

He said all the credit went to the players who, while defending the title, also made it to the quarter-finals of the Champions League where they were ousted by Bayern Munich.

"We are very happy. The credit must go to this extraordinary group of players who endured a tough and tiring season," Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"I am proud of them because despite us being favourites, the Champions League added an extra layer of pressure." Chilean international Vidal had been Juve's top scorer this season, the attacking midfielder scoring nine in the league and 14 in all competitions prior to Sunday's encounter at Juventus Stadium.

When the hosts were awarded a penalty just before the hour after midfielder Massimo Donati fouled Bianconeri striker Mirko Vucinic in the area, Vidal stepped up to beat Stefano Sorrentino in the Palermo goal.

Vidal was cautioned for over-exuberant celebrations but the goal sent Juventus Stadium into raptures.

Juve's title celebrations were tinged by the late sending-off of French midfielder Paul Pogba, who saw red seven minutes from the final whistle after spitting at Salvatore Aronica following a shouting match with the defender.

Juventus, who won the title in 2012 after being unbeaten in the league the entire season, have lost only four times this campaign.

The Turin giants have now secured one of two spots in Serie A which offer direct qualification for next season's Champions League, with Napoli poised to claim the runners-up spot.

AC Milan, currently third, boosted their chances of claiming the last Champions League spot after an 84th-minute winner from Mario Balotelli secured a 1-0 home win over Torino.

Milan now have a four-point lead over Fiorentina with three games remaning.

If Napoli lose to Inter, Allegri's side could realistically hope to close the four-point gap to second.

Elsewhere Lazio made up for their rollercoaster end to the season with a 6-0 rout of hapless Bologna, who saw veteran German striker Miroslav Klose hit the net five times to take his tally to 15 for the season.

Lazio remain seventh, two points behind Udinese and three adrift of Roma who occupy the final qualifying spot in the league for next season's Europa League.

Klose was not the only veteran striker to hit form on Sunday.

Antonio Di Natale scored a brace for Udinese in a 3-1 win over Sampdoria which boosted the northern side's Europa League hopes and left him just three goals short of Serie A's leading scorer Edinson Cavani.

Uruguayan international Cavani has topped the Serie A goal charts since mid-season when he overtook Stephan El Shaarawy of AC Milan.

However, the Napoli striker has been served notice that it could be a duel to the end for the 'Capocannoniere' - the league's top goalscorer's prize.

Gonzalo Bergessio, meanwhile, hit a hat-trick for Catania in a 3-0 win over Siena which has left the latter in dire need of points from their last three matches if they are to avoid relegation.

That was a fate that basement side Pescara could not avoid, the Adriatic coast side suffering a 4-1 defeat away to Genoa which sent them straight back to Serie B.

Pescara are 10 points adrift of Palermo, who are third from bottom and occupy the final relegation place.