Napoli rescues home draw against Empoli


Napoli scored twice in the space of five minutes to salvage a point against Empoli in Sunday's dramatic 2-2 draw at the San Paolo stadium. Empoli looked to be on course for their third win in four league games when Simone Verdi gave them a first-half lead before team-mate Daniele Rugani made it 2-0 eight minutes after the re-start. However, the hosts staged a comeback with Duvan Zapata reducing the deficit in the 67th minute before substitute Jonathan de Guzman made it 2-2 shortly after. Napoli had two clear-cut chances to win the match but Empoli goalkeeper Luigi Sepe pulled off a pair of outstanding saves to earn his team a deserved point. The result, Napoli's third consecutive draw in Serie A, will be of little comfort for Napoli coach Rafa Benitez, whose team blew a chance to close the gap on high-fliers Juventus and Roma. Victory would have seen third-placed Napoli move nine points behind league leaders Juve after both they and Roma dropped points in draws against Fiorentina and Sassuolo, respectively. Benitez left Gonzalo Higuain out of his starting XI, with the Argentinian striker struggling with fatigue, and fielded Zapata alongside top scorer Jose Callejon in attack. The hosts had the first chance in the 18th minute when Faouzi Ghoulam's left-footed volley from 15 yards forced Sepe to dive to his right to clear. But Empoli silenced the crowd at the San Paolo stadium a minute later. A fast counter-attack saw Massimo Maccarone set up an unmarked Verdi in the box and his left-footed strike beat Napoli goalkeeper Rafael. Empoli wasted a great chance to double their advantage in the 32nd minute. Verdi sent Francesco Tavano through on goal only for the veteran forward to fire wide in the six-yard box with only Rafael to beat. Sepe then pulled off a great save from Napoli captain Marek Hamsik's stinging drive from 30 yards to make sure Empoli went into the break with a narrow lead. The home side struggled to break Empoli's well-placed defence and the visitors made them pay when Rugani tapped in Maccarone's perfect pass to double Empoli's lead in the 53rd minute. On the hour mark, Higuain replaced Hamsik in attack and the hosts' fightback was on soon after. First, Zapata got his head on to Dries Mertens' cross and his powerful effort thwarted Sepe, before De Guzman equalised five minutes later. Christian Maggio's cross was deflected by an Empoli defender towards the unmarked Dutch midfielder, who calmly struck past the helpless Sepe. It could have been worse for the visitors, though, with Sepe forced into two making two great saves to keep it at 2-2 in the dying moments. First, he had to show great reactions to block Callejon's close-range effort, before he flew spectacularly to the right of his goal to save De Guzman's powerful volley and deny Napoli a last-gasp winner.