Football: Osimhen fires Napoli to within point of summit with Venezia winner

Napoli's Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen heads the ball and scores during a football match, on Feb 6, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

MILAN (AFP) - Victor Osimhen scored on his first Napoli start since November to help his team to a 2-0 win at Venezia on Sunday (Feb 6) which moves them to one point behind Serie A leaders Inter Milan.

Nigeria striker Osimhen had made two brief substitute appearances since fracturing bones in his face in a sickening head clash at Inter Milan. He rewarded coach Luciano Spalletti's decision to pick him by leaping to head Napoli ahead just before the hour mark at the Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo.

Andrea Petagna sealed the points in the 100th minute of a match extended due a clash of heads between the referee and Venezia's Tyronne Ebuehi, as well as that same player's late red card for a dreadful foul on Dries Mertens.

Wearing a special face mask, Osimhen's sixth Serie A goal of the season - his first since mid-October - fired Napoli right back into a three-way league title tussle.

Napoli are second, level on 52 points with AC Milan who broke open the race for the Scudetto as Olivier Giroud's derby double which saw off Inter on Saturday.

Like Milan, Napoli have played a game more than Inter but they host the champions next weekend before travelling to Barcelona for the first leg of their Europa League play-off with the Catalan giants.

Osimhen could have had another as he struck the post in the first half but Napoli had to battle their way past Venezia, who are in the relegation zone following defeat and Cagliari's 2-1 win at 10-man Atalanta earlier on Sunday.

Gaston Pereiro earned Walter Mazzarri's Cagliari their third win in five league matches to move them up to 17th, two points ahead of Venezia.

The 26-year-old gave Cagliari a surprise lead four minutes after half-time in Bergamo, and was crucial to Atalanta going a man down when he was brought down by onrushing goalkeeper Juan Musso just moments later.

Fourth-placed Atalanta, who will drop out of the Champions League positions if Juventus beat Verona on Sunday night, pulled level through Jose Luis Palomino in the 64th minute.

However the hopeful home fans were silenced again four minutes later when Pereiro rolled home the winner from Raoul Bellanova's low cross.

Atalanta have a game in hand but also have a fight on their hands to keep Champions League football after previously looking like title contenders.

They host Juve next weekend and will have to do without Duvan Zapata for that match and their Italian Cup tie with Fiorentina, with the Colombia forward pulling up just 14 minutes after coming off the bench for his first appearance of 2022.

Sampdoria took advantage of 18th-placed Venezia's defeat by thumping Sassuolo 4-0 and going five points clear of the bottom three.

Marco Giampaolo's Samp won thanks to two stunning volleys from Francesco Caputo and Andrea Conti, a goal from Stefano Sensi on his debut after arriving on loan from Inter and Antonio Candreva's late penalty.

Bologna and Empoli played out a goalless draw in the afternoon's other match.

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