ROME: Roma failed to strengthen their grip on second place in Serie A after goals from Marco Van Ginkel and Mattia Destro saw struggling AC Milan win 2-1 to blow the race for the Champions League wide open.
Van Ginkel’s first Serie A goal five minutes before half-time and a close range header from former Roma striker Destro just before the hour mark were enough for Milan to win for the first time in six games, despite a Francesco Totti penalty letting Roma back into the game 17 minutes from time.
Rudi Garcia’s Roma stay second on 64 points but they are only a point ahead of capital city rivals Lazio, who host Inter Milan on Sunday night.
They could also find fourth-placed Napoli only two behind them at the end of the weekend should Rafael Benitez’s side win at already-relegated Parma as expected.
In Saturday’s earlier game, Cagliari spoiled Juventus’ home title celebrations and Paul Pogba’s goal-scoring return after two months out by snatching a late 1-1 draw to keep their slim Serie A survival hopes alive.
Defender Luca Rossettini struck five minutes from the end in Turin, pouncing on the rebound off the post of his own header to cancel out Pogba’s 45th-minute opener, and close the gap between third-from-bottom Cagliari and Atalanta, who travel to Palermo on Sunday, to five points.
Pogba was the best player on the pitch before being substituted an hour into the match, but coach Massimiliano Allegri said that he was undecided whether he would start against Real Madrid on Wednesday when Juve try to a defend a 2-1 Champions League semi-final first leg lead.
“I will assess the situation between now and Wednesday, but I’ve seen in training that he’s in good physical condition. He’s a young lad and he’s in good shape,” said Allegri.
Roma looked to have turned a corner after two straight wins against Sassuolo and Genoa but once Gervinho left the field with a muscle problem after half an hour they lost their cutting edge, and it wasn’t until they were two goals down and Garcia threw on Totti and Juan Manuel Iturbe that they looked like a threat again.
The Ivorian was Roma’s key attacker and when he was replaced by Adem Ljajic Milan took charge, with Van Ginkel the driving force.
First the Dutch youngster picked out Giacomo Bonaventura with a delightful inswinging cross in the 37th-minute that the midfielder could only head straight De Sanctis, and three minutes later he gave the hosts the lead.
Miralem Pjanic sloppily gave the ball away in midfield, and Honda raced down the right before picking out the 22-year-old, who ghosted in front of Radja Nainggolan and tapped in the opener.
Honda was involved again when Milan doubled their lead. The Japanese midfielder again found himself on the right, and his cross deflected off Ibarbo over Roma keeper Morgan De Sanctis and straight to Destro, who charged in to score his eighth goal of the season.
Besides Totti’s penalty, which Iturbe won when he was fouled by Milan defender Alex, the away side failed to create any clear-cut chances, and Milan ran out deserved winners. (AFP)