That US Sassuolo Calcio are still involved in the battle to avoid relegation from Serie A with two games left is in no small part down to their teenage winger Domenico Berardi.
On Tuesday, the 19-year-old – on loan at the Emilia-Romagna club from Juventus – inspired Sassuolo to a shock 4-3 win at fourth-placed ACF Fiorentina, registering a first-half hat-trick in a victory that moved the Neroverdi out of the relegation zone.
Having lost 14 of 17 league matches between 8 December and 30 March, Eusebio Di Francesco's side have now won three of their past five, a timely upturn in form that has given last season's Serie B champions a two-point cushion above third-bottom Bologna FC ahead of their remaining fixtures against Genoa CFC and AC Milan.
Berardi has previous when it comes to scoring three times in a game. In November he achieved the feat in a 4-3 triumph at UC Sampdoria, an encounter in which he converted two penalties, and went one better on 12 January when he was responsible for all his team's goals in a 4-3 defeat of visiting Milan.
The left-footer enhanced his reputation against Fiorentina, taking his tally for the campaign to 16 goals, a tally bettered only by Gonzalo Higuaín, Luca Toni, Carlos Tévez and Ciro Immobile. Not bad for a player who, like Sassuolo, had never appeared in Serie A prior to this season and is yet to be capped by Italy. "The message is never give up," he said after his Florence exploits. "We got three essential points but the run-in is still hard."
After opening the scoring from the spot, Berardi made the most of Simone Zaza's pass to beat Antonio Rosati at his near post. He made it 3-0 on 42 minutes with an angled strike across the keeper after Viola defender Gonzalo Rodríguez had been caught in possession inside the Fiorentina area. "The second was the one I liked best," said Berardi. "I hit the ball well first time and was very happy with the way I connected."
Following a scintillating first-half display, Sassuolo endured a nervy second period, Nicola Sansone restoring their three-goal lead after Rodríguez had reduced the hosts' arrears with a spot kick of his own. With Giuseppe Rossi notching one of Fiorentina's other goals – Juan Cuadrado got the other – on his second outing since returning from a long-term knee injury, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has much to ponder before picking the attacking players he hopes will help Italy to FIFA World Cup glory this summer.
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