ROME (AFP) – A late strike by Leandro Paredes ended Roma’s run of four successive Serie A draws with a 2-1 win at Cagliari on Sunday to reduce the gap on leaders Juventus to seven points.
Roma’s title push had stalled recently due to their spate of draws but coach Rudi Garcia repudiated accusations they had been taking opponents lightly, despite the Frenchman saying on several occasions that his team would win the title.
“Even if it appears from time to time I say things that appear arrogant we have not been lacking in humility,” said Garcia.
Garcia, who made his name as a coach with Lille, guiding them to the 2011 domestic double, praised the young players who he said made the difference against Cagliari.
“The difference was the young players, with a goal by Paredes and two assists from (Daniele) Verde,” said 50-year-old Garcia.
“I believe in this guy (Verde). Aside from his technical and tactical qualities he works a lot for the team and he is very eager. I think he will go far.
“The youngsters showed that when we need to call on them that they are ready and that is good news.”
Captain Francesco Totti shook off ‘flu symptoms to spearhead a three-pronged attack with 18-year-old Verde to his right and Adem Ljajic out on the left.
Cagliari had the brighter start and Roma goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis had to use his legs to save from Duje Cop at the near post.
Verde, however, made the most of his Serie A debut, sending a lob into the path of Ljajic for the Serbian to beat Zeljko Brkic in the 18th minute.
Roma survived a second-half onslaught before virtually sealing the points when Paredes fired a superb first-timer from the edge of the area to beat Zeljko at the keeper’s far post.
Cagliari reduced arrears in the fifth minute of injury time when Paul-Jose M’Poku rose to send a looping header over De Sanctis.
However the Sardinians’ 11th reverse of the campaign means they remain just one place and one point above the drop zone.
Elsewhere, Napoli tightened their grip on third place with a dominant 3-1 home win over Udinese at the San Paolo where Dries Mertens opened the scoring and prompted an own goal by Frenchman Cyril Thereau in the second half.
In Sunday’s late game Inter Milan upset predictions against in-form Palermo to end a three-game winless streak and inject some hope into their European qualifying chances.
Argentinian striker Mauro Icardi added a second-half brace to Fredy Guarin’s 16th minute opener at the San Siro to send Inter up to 11th.