MILAN — Fiorentina played its first match since the death of captain Davide Astori, beating last-place Benevento 1-0 on an emotional Sunday at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
The 31-year-old Astori was found dead in his hotel room last Sunday after a suspected cardiac arrest before his team was due to play an Italian league match at Udinese.
“Davide was, and will always remain, our light,” said new Fiorentina captain Milan Badelj. “No one will ever forget this match, it will be difficult … Florence has shown us its soul, we are all united after a tragedy like this.”
The Fiorentina players and staff all came out for the warmup wearing Astori No. 13 shirts 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 staff and saluting it.
Both teams hit the post in the final minutes, through Massimo Coda and Badelj.
Many of the 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’s hopes of winning a first Serie A title since 1990 took a blow as it was held to a 0-0 draw at Inter Milan.
Napoli trails leader Juventus by a point, with Juventus having a game in hand.
Both sides had chances in an entertaining match, with Inter going closest to breaking the deadlock when Milan Skriniar headed a free kick off the right post early in the second half.
Lorenzo Insigne could have given Napoli the lead but he fired narrowly off target on two occasions.
Inter remained fifth and is a point behind Lazio, which has played one game more.
JOY FOR ‘LA JOYA’
Paulo Dybala scored twice as Juventus beat Udinese 2-0 to move top of Serie A, despite Gonzalo Higuain missing another penalty.
Juventus could be four points clear of Napoli on Wednesday if it beats Atalanta at home in a match which was rescheduled due to bad weather.
Dybala, nicknamed “La Joya” (the jewel), broke the deadlock in the 20th minute, curling a trademark free kick into the top corner.
Higuain should have doubled his side’s lead after Dybala was fouled in the area by Gabriele Angella, but he saw his spot kick saved by Udinese goalkeeper Albano Bizzarri shortly before halftime.
It was the fifth penalty Higuain has missed in Serie A.
Higuain made up for his error by setting up Dybala’s second four minutes after the break.
Dybala has scored four goals from his last three matches.
The fight for survival is heating up.
Three teams — Crotone, Sassuolo and Spal — are now on 24 points, two more than 19th-place Hellas Verona and one point below 15th-place Chievo Verona.
Spal got sucked into the relegation zone after drawing 1-1 at Sassuolo, which is above it only thanks to a better head-to-head record.
Crotone moved out of the bottom three after a surprise 4-1 win over Europa League-chasing Sampdoria.
Sampdoria remained seventh, three points behind AC Milan, which snatched a 1-0 win at Genoa thanks to Andre Silva’s header in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Milan is now six points off fourth-place Lazio and a Champions League spot, with a match in hand.
Lazio also scored deep in stoppage time, with Ciro Immobile’s stunning back-heeled lob salvaging a 2-2 draw at Cagliari, which has 26 points.
Elsewhere, Atalanta beat Bologna 1-0.
More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA