Football: Late goal keeps Milan hopes alive

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AN OWN-GOAL five minutes into injury time gave Milan a dramatic 3-2 win over 10-man Sampdoria yesterday and kept the second-placed side one-point behind the Serie A leaders, Lazio, in a tense Italian title race.

Lazio won 3-0 at Udinese while Fiorentina, in third place, had their Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta sent-off in a 5-1 win over Perugia.

Milan looked destined for a routine victory at the San Siro when Massimo Ambrosini scored with a thunderous 20 yard shot after 17th minute, and Sampdoria defender Saliou Lassissi was sent off on the stroke of half- time. But Sampdoria continued to play with three defenders and were rewarded in the 60th minute when Vincenzo Montella met Marco Franceschetti's corner with a header from the acutest of angles to equalise.

With 10-man Sampdoria overrunning Milan's midfield, the home side's manager, Alberto Zaccheroni, sent-on Leonardo and the Brazilian responding by curling a superb free-kick beyond Fabrizio Ferron to restore the home side's lead in the 79th.

But the advantage was short-lived as sweeper Franceschetti met Pierre Laigle's corner with a half-volley that left goalkeeper Christian Abbiati helpless in the 81st minute. In a dramatic finale, Maurizio Ganz missed an open goal before making amends five minutes into stoppage time when his shot from Ambrosini's deep cross deflected off the hapless Marcello Castellini's hand and wrong-footed Ferron. "We will do the impossible to catch Lazio," said Zaccheroni, looking ahead to next week's match at Juventus.

Juventus, meanwhile, had Zoran Mirkovic and Mark Iuliano dismissed and saw their hopes of qualifying for the Champions' League virtually disappear with a 1-0 defeat at Salernitana.

Feyenoord, who clinched the Dutch league title last week, were brought crashing back to earth when they were demolished 6-0 by their arch rivals, Ajax, yesterday. Ajax, who were league champions last season but have had a poor season by their own high standards this term, demolished their old rivals to improve their hopes of a European place.

Real Madrid took back second place in the Spanish First Division on Saturday as they recovered from a dispiriting seven days to beat Espanyol 2-0. Fernando Morientes scored both goals in the first half as John Toshack's inconsistent side, held to a dismal 1-1 draw at Salamanca last weekend and further unsettled by a string of stories of player unrest, rediscovered a little poise.