- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

ROME (AP) - After sitting on the bench all season, Lorenzo Tonelli finally got a chance to play for Napoli on Saturday and he made quite an impact.

The center back celebrated his season debut by scoring the winner five minutes into stoppage time as Napoli came back from a goal down to beat 10-man Sampdoria 2-1 in Serie A.

With Kalidou Koulibaly and Faouzi Ghoulam away at the African Cup of Nations, Tonelli played from the start and was ready when teammate Ivan Strinic set him up in the center of the area in the final seconds.

Tonelli met Strinic’s pass with a rising shot that left a crowd of Sampdoria defenders helpless inside the box.

“I had to get over some physical problems but I was lucky to find myself ready,” Tonelli said. “This is a great group and they helped me a lot. … Napoli showed tonight that it doesn’t give up.”

Tonelli had a breakthrough season at Empoli under current Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri in 2014-15 then followed Sarri to Napoli after last season.

Sampdoria led on the half-hour mark with an own goal from Elseid Hysaj.

Patrick Schick got by Vlad Chiriche near the right sideline and his cross was redirected in by Hysaj with Fabio Quagliarella waiting by the far post.

Napoli hardly threatened in the first half but the Partenopei came to life after the break.

Dries Mertens wasted a clear look at the goal by shooting high and Sampdoria was reduced to 10 men when Matias Silvestre picked up his second yellow card for disturbing Pepe Reina as the Napoli goalkeeper attempted a kick.

After another near miss from Mertens, Napoli finally found the target in the 77th when Manolo Gabbiadini equalized with his knee after being set up less than a yard out by Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon.

The victory extended Napoli’s unbeaten run to eight matches and moved last season’s runner-up level on points with second-place Roma, which visits Genoa on Sunday. The win maintains the southern club’s momentum ahead of a matchup with holder Real Madrid in the Champions League next month.

Juventus, which is four points ahead, hosts Bologna on Sunday as Serie A resumes after the holiday break.

Earlier, Massimo Maccarone converted a penalty as Empoli beat visiting Palermo 1-0 in a matchup between clubs trying to avoid relegation.

Maccarone drilled his spot kick into the left side of the net less than two minutes after going on. Thiago Cionek fouled Maccarone to break up a clear scoring chance from the center of the area.

Fourth from the bottom, Empoli moved seven points clear of Palermo and the drop zone.

The Pescara-Fiorentina match scheduled for Sunday was postponed due to too much snow and ice inside and around Stadio Adriatico.


Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

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