ROME, May 1 (AP): Napoli will have to wait at least a few more days to seal the Serie A title after drawing 1-1 with regional rival Salernitana on Sunday — disappointing legions of fans of the southern club who had already started celebrating in anticipation of the championship.
The Partenopei could have clinched with a record six rounds to spare if they beat Salernitana but Boulaye Dia equalized for the visitors six minutes from time after Mathias Olivera had given Napoli the lead.
“The guys are so disappointed they couldn’t provide joy to the amazing crowd,” Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti said.
The result left runaway leader Napoli 18 points ahead of second-place Lazio, which lost 3-1 at Inter Milan earlier.
Third-place Juventus could leapfrog Lazio and move into second if it wins at Bologna later.
Napoli is attempting to win the Italian league for the first time since Diego Maradona led the club to its only two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990.
Olivera scored just after the hour mark with a header inside the far post from a corner. Dia then dribbled past Napoli center forward Victor Osimhen and unleashed an angled shot to equalize.
“These are the most difficult points on a psychological level and they take something from you,” Spalletti said. “Salernitana are organized and they shut down in defense, which made it more difficult, and then we were a little naive on the goal we conceded.”
Napoli visits Udinese in its next match on Thursday, a day after Lazio hosts Sassuolo and Juventus hosts Lecce.
Napoli can now clinch the title with a win at Udinese on Thursday, and could even seal it a day earlier if Lazio and Juventus don’t win.
Napoli fans had been celebrating inside and outside the Estadio Diego Armando Maradona for hours before the match — raising their voices even louder after Lazio lost, which set up the chance for Napoli to clinch.
The game had been moved back a day from Saturday on a request from local authorities to maintain public order. But Salernitana, which hasn’t lost in more than two months, wouldn’t let the celebration happen.
Osimhen had a couple of early chances for Napoli – one of them stopped by Salernitana’s standout goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who recently went to his fifth World Cup with Mexico.
Ochoa also negated an opportunity from Napoli midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa in the first half.
There was also a long, curling effort from Napoli’s dribbling wizard Khvicha Kvaratskhelia that sailed high shortly after the break.
The match finally enlivened with a dead ball opportunity, as Olivera beat several defenders to meet a corner from substitute Giacomo Raspadori and send it beyond Ochoa’s reach.
Kvaratskhelia nearly doubled the advantage with a shot that missed just wide in the 80th. Minutes later, after Olivera was removed to make room for another defender, Dia equalized.
“We had two decisions to make. We knew that defending deeper — not something I like to do — was the first choice. Then after conceding the goal we reshuffled and tried to hurt them,” Salernitana coach Paulo Sousa said.
Napoli fans applauded their team at the final whistle.
“We sense the affection loud and clear in our ears and minds,” Spalletti said. “This just extends the enjoyment.”
Lautaro Martinez scored twice and Romelu Lukaku provided two assists as Inter came back from a goal down to beat Lazio and set up the opportunity for Napoli to seal it.
Inter defender Francesco Acerbi lost possession to set up an early Lazio goal from Felipe Anderson, with Ciro Immobile also helping out before the Brazilian fooled the defense to gain some space and fire in from the edge of the area.
After numerous chances for Inter, the Nerazzurri finally equalized in the 78th when Lukaku threaded a through ball for Martinez, who scored from the center of the area as he was sliding to the ground.
Lukaku then provided a cross-field pass that Robin Gosens redirected in with an acrobatic volley near the far post — injuring himself in the process.
Martinez scored his second in the 90th after a defensive error.
It was only the second win in seven Serie A matches for Inter, which has reached the Champions League semifinals and Italian Cup final.
“It was one of our best performances,” Inter coach Simone Inzaghi said.
Inter moved up to fourth, level on points with fifth-place AC Milan and sixth-place Roma.
Also, Sassuolo beat Empoli 2-1 and Cremonese and Hellas Verona drew 1-1.