Viola hold off Roma in race for fourth

April 2, 2006

MILAN, April 2 (Reuters) - Fiorentina held on to fourth place in Serie A after drawing 1-1 at home with their closest challengers AS Roma on Sunday.

Serie A's top scorer Luca Toni put Fiorentina ahead in the second minute with his 26th goal of the season but fifth-placed Roma fought back after the break with an equaliser from Argentine defender Leandro Cufre.

Fiorentina remain a point ahead of Roma in the fourth place that means a place in the qualifying round of next season's Champions League.

The top three all played on Saturday with leaders Juventus held to a goalless draw at Treviso but extending their advantage over AC Milan to nine points after Carlo Ancelotti's side were beaten 1-0 at lowly Lecce. Third-placed Inter Milan beat Messina 3-0.

With six games remaining, Juventus lead on 79 points with Milan on 70, Inter on 68 and Fiorentina seven points behind Roberto Mancini's side.

Toni's strike, a fine shot from the edge of the area, put him in the history books as 26 goals in a campaign equals his club's record for a season set by Swede Kurt Hamrin and Argentine Gabriel Batistuta.

The Florence side had their keeper Bogdan Lobont thank for maintaining their lead until the break as the Romanian produced a great save to keep out a header from Simone Perrotta and then from the resulting corner foiled compatriot Cristian Chivu.

Roma deserved at least a point out of the game though and they got on level terms when Lobont parried a header from Cufre and the Argentine reacted well to slot in the loose ball.

'We were a bit all over the place in the first few minutes and it is always hard when you concede a goal so early,' said Roma coach Luciano Spalletti.

'But I want to congratulate my team for the way they reacted. It isn't easy away to a team like Fiorentina but they showed character to come back like that,' he said.

An injury-time own goal from Lazio defender Massimo Oddo gave Empoli a 3-3 draw at the Olympic stadium after Lazio had been 2-0 up within eight minutes.

The Rome side looked to have grabbed the points in style when substitute Paolo Di Canio made it 3-2 with a superb solo goal in the 80th minute, dribbling past three defenders before driving into the far corner.

But with almost the final kick of the game Oddo miskicked a cross and the ball flew past Angelo Peruzzi to gift Empoli a point.

The result allowed Chievo to move above Lazio into sixth place after they beat Livorno 2-1.

At the foot of the table Udinese picked up their first win in over three months as headers from Antonio Di Natale and Brazilian defender Felipe gave them a 2-0 victory over Parma.

Parma's Brazilian midfielder Fabio Simplicao had a 59th minute penalty saved by Morgan De Sanctis.