MILAN (AFP) – Gonzalo Higuain was whistled off the park by Palermo fans as the Sicilians put the brakes on Napoli’s quest for Champions League football next season with a crushing 3-1 defeat on Saturday.
Napoli travelled to the Stadio Barbera wary after being held to a 3-3 draw by Giuseppe Iachini’s men at the San Paolo last September.
And those fears proved warranted as Achraf Lazaar, Franco Vazquez and Luca Rigoni hit a goal apiece to put Palermo firmly in the driving seat by 65 minutes.
Manolo Gabbiadini, who replaced Marek Hamsik on 54 minutes, hit a late consolation for Napoli only minutes after Palermo fans had given Higuain a rousing send-off, in somewhat mocking fashion, when he was replaced by Duvan Zapata on 74 minutes.
It was only Palermo’s ninth win over Napoli in 42 meetings and moved Iachini’s men up to seventh place in Serie A, nine points behind Napoli, who sit in third in the final Champions League qualifying place.
Iachini played down his team’s chances of qualifying for Europe, but was quick to praise his side for adapting to a new formation to curb Napoli’s usually potent 4-3-3.
Napoli had won their last four games on the trot to tighten their grip on third place, while their promising run of late had also fired a warning shot to title challengers Roma.
But Roma, who host Parma on Sunday, now have a chance to take their advantage over Napoli to seven points.