ITALY (REUTERS) - Juventus extended their lead in Serie A and took a step closer to a sixth successive Scudetto when Juan Cuadrado's early goal was enough to beat a spirited Sampdoria 1-0 on Sunday (March 19), while title hopefuls Roma and Napoli beat Sassuolo and Empoli respectively.
Juventus's win takes them up to 73 points with nine games to play, eight clear of second-placed Roma who beat Sassuolo 3-1 at home, and 10 ahead of Napoli, 3-2 victors at Empoli.
Cuadrado, making his 50th appearance for the reigning champions, met Kwadwo Asamoah's excellent cross from the left in the seventh minute with a diving header to give Massimiliano Allegri's relentless league leaders an early lead.
Juve wilted after the break, to Allegri's chagrin, while Sampdoria came out battling and almost equalised when the outstanding Asamoah was forced to deny Patrik Schnick with an exceptional last-gasp interception.
"These three points are a step forward," Allegri told Sky Italia. "It was important to win today because after the international break we've got a hard fixture list. "The lads had one of our best first-half performances of the season, playing well and creating many chances, but we couldn't sustain the tempo."
Juventus also paid tribute to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon who broke Giampiero Boniperti's 16-year record for Serie A minutes played for the club as Sunday's match passed the 65th minute.
Roma responded to their midweek Europa League elimination by Olympique Lyonnais and kept a semblance of pressure on the leaders with a come-from-behind triumph against Sassuolo.
The visitors took the lead through Gregoire Defrel in the ninth minute but Roma shook off their European hangover and equalised when Leandro Paredes struck a low drive from 25m in the 16th minute.
Mohamed Salah gave Roma the lead with a close-range finish moments before half-time and Edin Dzeko made sure of the points in the 68th minute when he fired home after a superb one-two with Kevin Strootman.
"Juventus seem to always win, so it won't be easy to catch them up but we must take things one game at a time," Strootman told Italian broadcaster Mediaset Premium.
"After the loss to Lyon, we needed the three points," he added. "Sassuolo played well for all of the first half but we've got quality and it showed."
Napoli consolidated their grip on the Champions League places with an exhilarating win at Empoli, going 3-0 up after a double from Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens' free-kick inside the opening 38 minutes, with the latter also having an early penalty saved.
Empoli set up a nervy finale when Omar El Kaddouri scored with a delightful free-kick in the 70th minute and Massimo Maccarone struck from the penalty spot 12 minutes later, but Napoli clung on to win. "
We're growing, but a team that plays a second half like this cannot have strong ambitions," Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri told journalists. "Until we resolve this problem, we cannot bridge the gap with the top teams."
Alejandro Gomez's double and a goal from Alberto Grassi saw Atalanta bounce back from last weekend's 7-1 humbling at Inter Milan and beat Pescara 2-0 to move back up to sixth on 55 points, while fourth-placed Lazio lost ground on the top three as they were held 0-0 at Cagliari.