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Grief-stricken Fiorentina honors Astori

Chinadaily / Players, crowd pay emotional tribute to late player before game

MILAN – Fiorentina on Sunday played its first match since the death of captain Davide Astori, beating bottom side Benevento 1-0 on an emotional afternoon at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

The 31-year-old Astori was found dead in his hotel room on March 4 after a suspected cardiac arrest before his team was due to play a Serie A match at Udinese.

“Davide was, and will always remain, our light,” said new Fiorentina captain Milan Badelj. “No one will ever forget this match. Florence has shown us its soul. We are all united after a tragedy like this.”

Fiorentina players and staff wore Astori No 13 shirts during the warmup and lined up next to a giant poster of his shirt and the words “Captain Forever”. They also held up a banner with “Ciao Davide” before kickoff.

There were plenty more No 13 shirts and banners in the stands, including in the visitors’ section, with one huge banner reading: “There are men who never die. There are stories that are passed on through eternity. Bon voyage, Captain.”

Purple and white balloons were released after an impeccably observed minute’s silence as part of a series of deeply moving scenes, which had many in tears.

The players also stopped to remember Astori after 13 minutes of the game and there was special choreography in the stands, with the fans turning one end purple with “Davide 13” while everyone chanted Astori’s name – as they did for most of the match.

Vitor Hugo, the player who replaced Astori in the starting lineup, scored the only goal of the match in the 25th minute, leaping high to head in Riccardo Saponara’s corner for midtable Fiorentina.

Hugo celebrated by running to the bench with a T-shirt bearing Astori’s face, giving it to a member of the staff and saluting it.

Both teams hit the post in the final minutes.

Many Viola players collapsed to the ground after the final whistle, with tears streaming down their faces.

“I hope that, from above, Davide is proud of us. I am convinced he gave a hand to Vitor Hugo to jump so high, he is always on the pitch with us,” said Fiorentina midfielder Marco Benassi.

“It has been a difficult day, like the whole week. We have felt a great emptiness.”

Napoli held

Elsewhere, Napoli’s hopes of winning a first Serie A title since 1990 took a blow as it was held to a scoreless draw at Inter Milan.

Napoli trails leader Juventus by a point, with the Turin club holding a game in hand.

Both sides had chances in an entertaining match, with Inter coming closest to breaking the deadlock when Milan Skriniar headed a freekick off the post early in the second half.

Lorenzo Insigne twice could have given Napoli the lead but the diminutive forward blasted just wide of the target on both occasions.

Inter remains fifth, a point behind Lazio, which has played one game more.

Juve goes top

Paulo Dybala scored twice as Juventus beat Udinese 2-0 to move top of the standings, despite Gonzalo Higuain missing another penalty.

Juve could be four points clear of Napoli on Wednesday if it beats Atalanta at home in a match that was rescheduled due to bad weather.

Argentina international Dybala, nicknamed “La Joya” (The Jewel), broke the deadlock in the 20th minute, curling a trademark freekick into the top corner.

Higuain should have doubled his side’s lead after Dybala was fouled in the area by Gabriele Angella, but the Argentine saw his spot-kick saved by Udinese goalkeeper Albano Bizzarri shortly before halftime.

It was the fifth penalty Higuain has missed in Serie A.

The former Real Madrid striker made up for his error by setting up Dybala’s second four minutes after the break.

Dybala has scored four goals in his past three matches.

Associated Press

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