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Erratic Napoli thwarted by late Roma equaliser

* Sicilian stalemate at Palermo (Writes through)

MILAN, April 28 (Reuters) - Napoli squandered two more precious points in the race for a Champions League place with a 2-2 draw at AS Roma on Saturday that summed up their topsy-turvy Serie A season.

Leading 2-1 with two minutes to go, Napoli appeared to be in complete control against demoralised opponents until Brazilian substitute Fabio Simplicio struck for the hosts out of the blue.

Simplicio celebrated by climbing several rows in the crowd to hug his son and he was booked while Napoli's players held their heads in disbelief having dominated the second half.

Marquinho put Roma ahead shortly before halftime but Juan Zuniga levelled immediately after the restart and Edinson Cavani struck his 22nd league goal of the season in a game where all the goals were scored by South Americans.

Napoli, who are fourth in the table and have three games left, moved level on 55 points with third-placed Lazio who visit Udinese on Sunday (1845 GMT).

Juventus and AC Milan have already guaranteed the two automatic places in next season's Champions League. The team in third goes through to the qualifying round.

Inter Milan and Udinese, who have 52 points, still have an outside chance of finishing third.

Elsewhere on Saturday, the Sicilian derby between Palermo and Catania ended 1-1 while Cagliari and Chievo Verona shared a 0-0 draw.

Napoli have a small squad and their busy season has varied between vibrant attacking performances and sloppy defeats.


Having won five games in a row in February and March, they then failed to win the following six.

Napoli's Champions League campaign ended in spectacular fashion when they squandered a 3-1 first-leg lead against Chelsea by losing the return match 4-1 in extra time.

They were over-run in the first half on Saturday but then seized control in the second.

Roma missed an easy first-half chance when Fernando Gago shot wide from six metres after keeper Morgan De Sanctis spilled Francesco Totti's swerving low drive.

Totti, in his 20th season at the club, set up the opener in the 41st minute with an incisive ball to Aleandro Rosi on the right and his centre was met by Brazilian Marquinho who fired into the roof of the net.

The game changed dramatically when Zuniga levelled four minutes after the break, the Colombian collecting the ball 35 metres out and sending a dipping shot into the far corner to leave keeper Bogdan Lobont stranded.

Roma then caved in and Napoli swept forward to grab their second goal when one of several counter-attacks ended with Cavani cutting inside his marker and curling another shot beyond Lobont in the 67th minute.

With the home fans jeering their team, it seemed a case of playing out time for Napoli until Simplicio struck.

Catania, who won the previous two Sicilian derbies, took the lead in the 25th minute at Palermo when the unmarked Nicola Legrottaglie headed in at the far post after Pablo Barrientos nodded on an Alejandro Gomez cross.