Balotelli's first miss costs Milan

Updated: 2013-09-24 06:42

By Reuters in Milan (China Daily)

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Mario Balotelli missed a penalty for the first time in his career as AC Milan slumped to a 2-1 defeat at home to Serie A joint leader Napoli on Sunday.

In a typically eventful performance, "Super Mario" was also booked, hit the crossbar, had another penalty appeal turned down, brought the game to life with a brilliant stoppage time goal and got sent off for arguing after the final whistle.

Balotelli, who had converted all 21 of his previous penalties in official matches, watched his run come to an end when Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina dived low to his right to block his shot in the 61st minute.

The defeat, Milan's first at home in the league since November and their first at home to Napoli since April 1986, left the host with a miserly four points from four games.

Its poor start is almost certain to lead to renewed speculation over the future of coach Massimiliano Allegri, who still managed to put a brave face on another difficult evening.

"The team has played their best match of the championship, only making mistakes in the first 10 minutes and with the Napoli goals," Allegri told Sky Sports Italia.

"We still have great chances to fight for first place. We are going to play better and we will get all the players fully fit."

Napoli, which has won all four Serie A games so far this season, went ahead in the sixth minute through Miguel Britos and Gonzalo Higuain made it 2-0 with a low, 25-meter shot which slipped through Christian Abbiati's hands in the 53rd minute.

Injury-hit Milan, which scrambled a 2-0 Champions League win over Celtic on Wednesday, produced another disjointed performance but had a golden chance to reduce the arrears when Balotelli was fouled in the area, only for Reina to save the penalty.

Balotelli, 23, then smashed another shot off the crossbar after a one-two with Alessandro Matri, saw a dipping 25-meter effort turned over by Reina and went down again in the area, only for the referee to wave play to continue.

But Balotelli still gave Milan hope when he curled the ball in from the edge of the area in the 91st minute.

He finished his evening by getting into an angry exchange with Napoli's Valon Behrami and remonstrating with the referee, who finally ost patience and showed the Milan star a second yellow card.

"I don't know what to say about the protests at the end," said Allegri. "It's better not to create confusion, the referee has already made up his mind."

In Rome, two days after extending his contract for two more seasons, 36-year old Roma captain Francesco Totti provided the cross in the 63rd when Federico Balzaretti volleyed in for his first goal in Serie A since April 2011to lift Roma to a 2-1 derby win over Lazio.

Lazio had won four of the past five derbies, including a victory in last season's Italian Cup final.

"We put the church back in the center of town," Roma's new coach, Rudi Garcia, said, using a proverb from his native French tongue.

"It was a huge match for us and for our fans and like I said, 'You don't play the derby, you win it'."

Elsewhere, Inter Milan thrashed Sassuolo 7-0 and two-time defending champion Juventus struggled at times before edging Hellas Verona 2-1.

(China Daily 09/24/2013 page23)