ROME (Reuters) - Two goals in three minutes from Napoli’s Goran Pandev were not enough to secure victory as his side threw away a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 at home to Udinese in an end-to-end Serie A thriller on Saturday.
In the day’s other game, a stunning late free kick by Mario Balotelli, his second goal of the match, helped AC Milan snatch a 2-2 draw at Livorno.
Rafael Benitez’s Napoli stay third with 32 points from 15 games, two points behind AS Roma and eight adrift of leaders Juventus, who beat Bologna 2-0 on Friday and look an even stronger bet for their third consecutive league title.
”We have to improve,“ said Benitez. ”We scored two goals and had control of the game before making a mistake at a corner.
“We’re the ones who have to improve and stop making mistakes. If we manage to score as many goals as we did tonight we need to be better at the back.”
Pandev tapped in the opening goal in the 38th minute after showing delicate control.
He quickly made it 2-0 when Gonzalo Higuain charged to the byline and pulled the ball back for the Macedonian forward, who spun well before guiding in his sixth league goal of the season.
Napoli defender Federico Fernandez let Udinese back into the game with an embarrassing own goal seconds before halftime when he clipped in a tame Thomas Heurtaux header.
Bruno Fernandes then deservedly drew Udinese level with a dipping shot that confused Napoli keeper Rafael with 21 minutes left.
Napoli went back in front seconds later when Blerim Dzemaili tapped in the rebound following a curling effort from Higuain, but Udinese refused to give up and equalised with 10 minutes to go when Dusan Basta scored after a goalmouth scramble.
The visitors then almost snatched victory when Brazilian Maicosuel burst through on goal, only for Christian Maggio to thwart him with a superb sliding tackle.
The challenge enraged Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin, who was sent off for protesting.
“Maggio was clever and crafty to slow down Maicosuel,” said Guidolin. “If they didn’t see it that’s fine but I was sent off only for asking how not only he but also his assistants didn’t see it.”
Eighth-placed Milan were rescued at Livorno by Balotelli, who thumped a spectacular shot past keeper Francesco Bardi from 30 metres with six minutes left.
His leveller came after two sucker punches from Luca Siligardi and Paulinho had turned the game in the home team’s favour following Balotelli’s seventh-minute opener.
He almost clinched a barely deserved win for Milan when he hit the bar with a looping effort two minutes from the end.
Second-placed Roma host flamboyant Fiorentina in one of seven fixtures on Sunday.
Editing by Peter Rutherford