Milan eye Euro return after holding Napoli

ROME (AFP) – AC Milan kept their hopes of European football alive on Sunday with a 2-2 draw at Napoli that leaves them with a strong chance of reaching the Europa League.

Franck Kessie’s penalty 17 minutes from time gave Milan a battling point in Naples after Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Dries Mertens had put the hosts deservedly ahead with an hour gone.

The draw leaves Napoli in sixth place and the final Europa League spot, but as Gennaro Gattuso’s side have already qualified for the competition’s group stage by winning the Italian Cup, seventh place currently offers a place into the qualifying rounds.

Milan, who are two points and one place behind Napoli, are favourites to take the third spot in the Europa, although eighth-placed Sassuolo look keen for continental football despite being four points further back.

“When you get results and put in strong performances against this kind of opponent, it really boosts your confidence,” said Milan coach Stefano Pioli.

Napoli’s Dries Mertenskicks the ball past AC Milan’s Alessio Romagnoli. PHOTO: AP

“We scored a great goal to take the lead, we fought back to equalise and a point is a good result.”

Theo Hernandez gave the away side the lead against the run of play with 19 minutes gone when he met Ante Rebic’s brilliant cross with a thumping volley, but Napoli responded brilliantly to going behind.

They were deservedly level 14 minutes later thanks to a fizzing free-kick delivery from Lorenzo Insigne which Gianluigi Donnarumma patted out to Di Lorenzo, who tapped home.

Mertens put the hosts ahead on the hour mark when he met Jose Callejon’s low cross with a shot that was deflected past Donnarumma by Alessio Romagnoli.

From there it looked like there would only be one winner but they were given the perfect chance to equalise when Nikola Maksimovic brought down Giacomo Bonaventura in the area.

Kessie made no mistake from the spot, rifling his finish past David Opsina.

Earlier Sampdoria inched towards safety after they came from behind to win 3-1 at Udinese while their local rivals Genoa climbed out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over SPAL that left their opponents on the brink of the drop.