Ronaldo entices red card, Juventus beats Napoli in fireworks-laden clash atop Serie A

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/teams/juventus/" data-ylk="slk:Juventus">Juventus</a>' <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/373159/" data-ylk="slk:Cristiano Ronaldo">Cristiano Ronaldo</a>, right, touches the ball past <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/teams/napoli/" data-ylk="slk:Napoli">Napoli</a> goalkeeper <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/434857/" data-ylk="slk:Alex Meret">Alex Meret</a> on Sunday. The play resulted in Meret being sent off and helped Juventus win 2-1. (Reuters)
Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo, right, touches the ball past Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret on Sunday. The play resulted in Meret being sent off and helped Juventus win 2-1. (Reuters)

Three goals, two red cards and one decisive champion-to-be in Italy.

Juventus beat Napoli 2-1 at the San Paolo Stadium to extend its lead atop Serie A to 16 points, and both sides finished with 10 men in the volatile clash.

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Cristiano Ronaldo broke away from the defense in the 25th minute and forced Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret to come out and meet him. Meret’s sliding challenge was a tad reckless and deserved a card, but Ronaldo’s uncharacteristically heavy touch took the ball away from goal and it seemed he ended up writhing on the ground when replays showed there was minimal contact, if any.

Regardless, the referee showed Meret a red card, and after David Ospina came on for striker Arkadiusz Milik for Napoli, Miralem Pjanic curled a free kick over the wall to open the scoring (via ESPN):

It seems like a shot the wall should have stopped, but once the ball cleared Ospina had little chance of stopping it.

Napoli surged for a few minutes following the goal, but Emre Can doubled the lead in the 39th minute, meeting a Federico Bernardeschi cross with a darting header:

But Pjanic tensed up the proceedings right after halftime, with a remarkably ill-advised handball to receive a second yellow and a sending off:

About 15 minutes later, Jose Callejon cut the lead in half, finishing high after a cross by Lorenzo Insigne, and Insigne himself had a chance to tie the game in the 81st minute after Alex Sandro handled the ball in the box.

But Insigne stung the post with his kick, and Juventus held on from there.

For all the excitement, even a Napoli win wouldn’t have drummed up a ton of drama in the title race. Juventus still would have been 10 points clear, with Champions League distraction arguably a greater opponent than any side remaining on the domestic schedule.

In the 13th minute, the match paused as both clubs and fans in attendance applauded the memory of Davide Astori, the former Fiorentina midfielder who died March 4, 2018, of cardiac arrest at 31 years old. Astori wore No. 13 and Serie A announced all clubs would honor him as part of this weekend’s fixtures.

Joey Gulino is the editor of Yahoo Soccer and moonlights as a writer. Follow him on Twitter at @JGulinoYahoo.

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