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Title-chasing Roma held to 1-1 by Empoli in Serie A, fails to cut gap to leader Juventus

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MILAN — Title-chasing Roma was held to 1-1 at home by relegation-threatened Empoli on Saturday and looks set to lose more ground on Serie A leader Juventus.

It was Roma's fourth consecutive league draw, and left it six points behind Juventus, which visits Udinese on Sunday. Napoli can also close the gap to second place to four points if it wins at Chievo Verona.

"We are in a period with so many problems, and the only thing to take out of this is the reaction of the team," Roma coach Rudi Garcia said. "Not only were we a goal down but also a man down. We gave everything in the second half, not only to draw, but also to win.

"With (Juan) Iturbe's injury and (Davide) Astori hitting the crossbar, we can say that the wheel of fortune isn't turning for us. Things go better when you have choices, and at the moment I don't have that. Now we have to grit our teeth and, with the players we have, give everything to get back to winning ways."

Roma already had personnel problems with a host of players injured, and Gervinho and new signing Seydou Doumbia at the African Cup of Nations. Matters grew worse when Iturbe was forced off with a knee injury after just 24 minutes.

Empoli took a surprise lead in the 39th minute after Kostas Manolas was sent off for bundling into Riccardo Saponara, when the Empoli midfielder was through on goal. Massimo Maccarone converted the resulting penalty.

The visitors were also reduced to 10 men in first-half stoppage time as Saponara received a second yellow card for a handling offense, although he argued he controlled the ball with his shoulder.

PHOTO: Genoa's Stefano Sturaro, right, scores, during a Serie A soccer match between Genoa and Fiorentina, in Genoa's Luigi Ferraris Stadium, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Tano Pecoraro)
Genoa's Stefano Sturaro, right, scores, during a Serie A soccer match between Genoa and Fiorentina, in Genoa's Luigi Ferraris Stadium, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Tano Pecoraro)

Roma again looked like a different side after the break as it fought back for the fourth successive match, levelling when Douglas Maicon curled a Miralem Pjanic pass into the far bottom corner in the 57th.

The capital side could have taken the lead shortly after but Davide Astori headed onto the crossbar.

The tension was high, and Mario Rui claimed Pjanic punched him in the ribs off the ball. Empoli coach Maurizio Sarri was sent off for dissent.

Empoli moved two points off the relegation zone with its seventh draw in nine matches.

Earlier, Genoa drew 1-1 at home to Fiorentina.

Fiorentina remained sixth ahead of the rest of the weekend's fixtures, four points behind third-place Napoli. Genoa was three points further back.

Genoa took the lead in comical circumstances. Stefano Sturaro, who was playing his last game for Genoa before moving to Juventus, somehow failed to put the ball straight into an empty net from six yards, but his shot hit the inside of the post and went in off the back of goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu's head.

Fiorentina, which was playing its first match without Juan Cuadrado after his move to Chelsea, leveled 10 minutes into the second half. Matias Fernandez's cross was nodded on by a Genoa player, and Gonzalo Rodriguez headed in at the back post.

Genoa had to play the final nine minutes with 10 men after Nicolas Burdisso was sent off following a second booking.

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PHOTO: Roma goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis, left, walks by as Empoli’s players celebrating after their teammate Massimo Maccarone scored during a Serie A soccer match between Roma and Empoli, at Rome's Olympic Stadium, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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