South Americans lead Inter past Napoli
MILAN (AFP) –
Inter Milan moved up to second and closed the gap to Juventus to four points in Serie A Sunday thanks to a clinical but hard-fought 2-1 win over fellow title chasers Napoli.
A pair of goals from south Americans Fredy Guarin and Diego Milito settled Inter’s nerves before half-time and despite Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani reducing the arrears just before the hour the visitors failed to pull level in a tighter second half.
Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni said: “Tonight we came up against a great Napoli side. For us to win this match required an almost perfect performance from us.”
With the players’ still warming up in freezing temperatures at the San Siro, the roof was raised when Colombian Guarin ghosted in at the back in the eighth minute to volley Antonio Cassano’s curling corner past a helpless Morgan De Sanctis.
Napoli looked dangerous going forward but spurned the few half-chances they created with Marek Hamsik missing from close range from Cavani’s lay-off and Cavani being ruled offside after a missed header at the back post following Lorenzo Insigne’s perfect delivery.
When Inter scored their second, it came from nothing but put the Nerazzurri well on their way to securing the three points.
The lively Guarin pounced on a poor Napoli clearance, strode forward to feed Milito who did well to hold off Alessandro Gamberini and sidefoot the ball into the net despite a desperate parry by De Sanctis.
Inter emerged in positive fashion after the interval, although Guarin drove his long-range effort from Alvaro Pereira’s pass well wide and when the Uruguayan fed Cassano the Italian hit his close range shot straight at De Sanctis.
Napoli, however, pressed forward and when the ball fell to Gohkan Inler on the edge of the area the Swiss midfielder’s well-struck volley brought a diving save from Samir Handanovic.
Napoli, however, had the ball in the net moments later with Cavani pouncing at the back post after Handanovic had performed heroics to somehow keep out desperate efforts. The goal galvanised Napoli but their claims for a penalty after Christian Maggio had fallen under pressure from a defender were waved away.
Both sides spurned further chances with Japanese wingback Yuto Nagatomo being denied by De Sanctis and then Inter living dangerously when Cavani’s cross swept across a barren goalmouth and a backtracking Pereira nervously sending the ball out for a corner.
Cavani then won a freekick and when Insigne sent in an inviting curling ball for Maggio at the back post his headed effort went straight to Handanovic.
Despite seeing his side slip to third at five points behind Juve, Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri had few complaints.
“I’m happy with the way my players played, they came out more positively in the second half and we created several chances that we should have put away.
“If we continue to play like this, I’m sure we’ll win a lot more matches.”
Earlier, Juventus had a Stephan Lichsteiner strike early in the second half to thank for a 1-0 win away to Palermo on Antonio Conte’s return to the touchline, while AC Milan continued their resurgence with a 4-2 win away to Torino.
The match signalled Conte’s return to the touchline after he served a four-month ban for his alleged role in a match-fixing affair while at former club Siena.
He admitted: “It was a painful four months, but I’ve come out of this stronger.”
After going a goal down to Argentinian Mario Santana, Milan scored four through Robinho, Antonio Nocerino, Giampaolo Pazzini and Stephan El Shaarawy before Rolando Bianchi scored a late consolation for the Granate.
Milan’s sixth win leaves them seventh on 24 points, 14 behind champions Juventus, but was tempered by the likely loss of Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong for the season after he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon injury.
Lazio travel to Bolgna on Monday when they will hope to pull clear of city rivals Roma, who cemented fifth place Saturday thanks to a 4-2 win over Fiorentina.