ROME (AP) — Roma was both classy and fortunate to beat Napoli 2-0 Friday and match the best start in Serie A history with its eighth consecutive win.
Miralem Pjanic scored twice for the Giallorossi in the 1 vs. 2 clash. First, the Bosnia midfielder found the net four minutes into first-half added time with a sublime free kick that went over Napoli's wall before dipping down into the top corner. Then he added a penalty in the 71st after Napoli captain Paolo Cannavaro was shown a red card for taking down Marco Borriello inside the area, leaving the visitors with 10 men.
"We're doing great things," Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi said. "Eight consecutive wins count for something. They're important points but we need to continue, otherwise it serves for little." Napoli wasted three close chances. Goran Pandev failed to finish with only the goalkeeper to beat and Lorenzo Insigne and Gokhan Inler each hit the post.
"The penalty changed everything," Napoli coach Rafa Benitez said. "Except for the first 20 minutes we played very well — better than Roma." Former Napoli great Diego Maradona was in attendance but he had little to cheer for.
"Unfortunately I don't play anymore," Maradona said when asked about the loss. Roma matched Juventus, which also won eight consecutive matches to start the 1985-86 and 1930-31 seasons. The Bianconeri went on to win the Serie A title on both occasions.
Juventus also won nine straight in 2005-06 but its title that season was stripped in the "calciopoli" match-fixing scandal. "I'm pleased because today Totti's Roma matched Platini's Juventus," Roma coach Rudi Garcia said.
Roma moved five points ahead of Napoli and Juventus, which visits Fiorentina on Sunday. Perhaps even more impressive than its record is Roma's goal differential, with 22 scored and one allowed. Roma hasn't won the title since 2001 and the winning start is all the more surprising considering Roma finished sixth last season, missed out on Europe and has a new manager — Frenchman Rudi Garcia — who had never previously coached in Italy.
The start is also a boon to Roma's American owners, who took over the club in 2011 and faced criticism in their first two seasons. The only negative moments for Roma came when captain Francesco Totti exited with an apparent right thigh muscle problem after a half hour and Gervinho went off with a similar injury in the second half.
While the Stadio Olimpico was not completely full, the atmosphere was electric. When Maradona entered the stadium early in the first half, fans — both Napoli and Roma supporters — rushed past security to take his picture as he waved to the crowd.
Napoli started with its standout forward Gonzalo Higuain on the bench with a minor injury and Roma controlled the opening 20 minutes. De Rossi and Pjanic threatened for Roma early on and just as Napoli began to assert itself, Totti went to the sideline.
Totti had his thigh massaged for a few minutes but then decided he couldn't come back on and walked down into the changing room as Borriello replaced him. In the 35th, a through ball from Insigne set up Pandev with only Roma goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis to beat but the Macedonia striker couldn't get his shot around De Sanctis, who played for Napoli the past four seasons. Despite De Sanctis' deflection, the ball still trickled toward the net but De Rossi cleared the danger just in time.
"We really defend with 11 men," De Rossi said. "Everyone says that but we're actually doing it. We all work together." In the 45th, Napoli threatened again when Insigne wasted a great chance by hitting the outside of the post from five meters (yards).
Down at the other end, Gervinho earned the foul that set up the free kick for Pjanic's goal. Napoli was again dangerous at the start of the second half with Inler hitting the outside of the post with a long shot in the 49th.
De Rossi nearly doubled the lead when his bouncing a header missed in the 58th and Higuain replaced Pandev in the 68th. Two minutes after Higuain came on, Pjanic pounded his penalty into the back of the net and Napoli didn't have the will — or time — to recover from a two-goal deficit.
Follow Andrew Dampf at http://twitter.com/ADampfAP