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Balotelli's stunner helps Milan achieve 2-1 victory against mid-table Parma

MILAN--A stunning Mario Balotelli free-kick gave AC Milan a 2-1 win over mid-table Parma in Serie A on Friday that put them level with third-placed Lazio and a point ahead of rivals Inter Milan in the race for European places.

Balotelli's strike 13 minutes from time capped a bustling display by the controversial forward and sealed the points for Massimiliano Allegri's side after an own goal from home defender Gabriel Paletta in the 39th set them on their way to victory.

Nicola Sansone got a consolation for Parma in added time but it was too late to stop in-form Milan moving up to fourth place, a point above city rivals Inter, who they face next weekend, and level with Lazio in the Champions League playoff spot.

Milan, who have 44 points from 25 games, have now gone six games unbeaten which should give them confidence ahead of their Champions League last 16, first-leg match at home to Barcelona on Wednesday. Champions Juventus are top with 55 points.

Parma, despite suffering eight away defeats this season, were a match for Milan, especially in the first half when Amauri had two good chances to give his side the lead in the 25th.

He headed too close to Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati from Marco Marchionni's corner and then attempted a backheel from a cross by the impressive Jonathan Biabiany with teammates lining up behind to tuck the ball into an empty net.

However, Paletta's own goal knocked the stuffing out the visitors and if Milan had been more clinical on the counter attack against a very high defensive line, they could have sealed the win long before Balotelli's pearl of a set piece.

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AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli, right, celebrates with his teammate Riccardo Montolivo, second from right, Mattia De Sciglio, second left, and Bojan Krkic, of Spain, after scoring during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Parma at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Friday, Feb. 15.

(AP)

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