Fiorentina, Inter tighten Europa grip, Higuain hits hat-trick
Fiorentina dominated 10-man Verona in an eight-goal thriller while Inter Milan stunned 10-man Sampdoria 4-0 in Genoa as both sides tightened their grip on Serie A's two Europa League places on Sunday.
Elsewhere Napoli resisted a fightback from Lazio, who also had a player sent off, to prevail 4-2 thanks to an injury-time goal from Gonzalo Higuain which gave the Argentine striker a hat-trick.
In Sunday's late match captain Riccardo Montolivo struck a first-half missile to earn AC Milan a 1-0 win over basement side Catania.
Frustrated throughout by Maurizio Pellegrino's ill-disciplined side, Milan missed a series of half-chances before Andres Rinaudo saw red in the 78th minute for a rash challenge on Philippe Mexes, his second bookable offence coming after several previous warnings.
But Clarence Seedorf's men held on to their slim lead to claim a fourth consecutive win for the first time this season to move up to eighth, only five points off Inter.
Leaders Juventus are not in action until Monday when they travel to Udinese looking to restore their eight-point lead on second-placed Roma, whose 3-1 win at home to Atalanta on Saturday reduced their arrears to five points.
Napoli, in third, are 12 points adrift of Roma and still nine ahead of fourth-placed Fiorentina.
Higuain, who had not scored since March 17 and had recently been substituted several times by coach Rafael Benitez, told Mediaset: "I'm happy for me and for Napoli, especially after our defeat to Parma (last week).
"Luck was on our side but we managed to overturn the score and for that I'm happy."
With all three Champions League spots virtually accounted for, the battle rages for places in Europe's second-tier club competition.
Fiorentina overcame conceding an early goal to hit back through Juan Cuadrado, Alberto Aquilani and Borja Valero before Verona midfielder Marco Donadel saw red for hauling down Cuadrado.
- Icardi left laughing -
Verona reduced the arrears through a Luca Toni spot-kick, the veteran striker's 17th goal of the campaign.
But further goals from Alessandro Matri, from the spot, and Aquilani put the match beyond all reach despite Iturbe hitting a fine consolation in injury time.
Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella could not have been happier, telling Sky Sport Italia: "We had a great game, above all in terms of tactics.
"Despite conceding more goals than I would have liked we were always in the game."
Inter's visit to Sampdoria was highly anticipated after a midweek tit-for-tat spat between Maxi Lopez and Inter's Mauro Icardi, who lives with the Samp striker's former girlfriend Wanda Nara and the couple's two children.
Lopez had slammed his fellow Argentinian for posting pictures of his children, whom he fathered with Nara, in the public domain.
But after Lopez snubbed Icardi at the pre-match handshake, Icardi was left laughing with a brace of goals in a 4-0 rout which saw Inter 'keeper Samir Handanovic stop Lopez's first-half spot-kick and Samp midfielder Eder red-carded for a second bookable offence.
Samp's woes were compounded by the fact Lopez had asked Eder if he could take the penalty.
"I normally take the penalties, but Lopez asked me so I left it to him," the Brazilian striker told Rai 2.
"There are issues between Maxi and Icardi, but I wish he'd scored the penalty."
Elsewhere Alberto Paloschi celebrated a hat-trick for Chievo in a 4-2 over relegation-threatened Livorno.
Torino strikers Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci struck one apiece in injury time to secure a 2-1 win over Genoa, who had opened the scoring through Alberto Gilardino on 85 minutes.
Immobile is now top of the league scoring charts with 19 goals and Torino are up to seventh only five points behind Inter.