Ibrahimovic influential as Inter close in on title
AFP/The Local · 22 Feb 2009, 08:57
Published: 22 Feb 2009 08:57 GMT+01:00
Inter Milan maintained their nine-point lead at the top of Serie A after a battling 2-1 victory at lowly Bologna while Juventus won 2-0 at Palermo on Saturday.
It was the perfect warm-up for coach Jose Mourinho's men ahead of Tuesday's crucial Champions League round of 16, first leg clash against Manchester United.
But despite the European encounter three days away, Mourinho resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes to his starting XI, bringing in Brazilian Maxwell for Serbian Dejan Stankovic in midfield and handing Colombian centre-back Nelson Rivas a rare start in place of Argentine Nicolas Burdisso.
He was rewarded for fielding a strong line-up as teenage forward Mario Balotelli hit the winner direct from a free-kick from wide on the left eight minutes from time to secure the three points.
Mourinho refused to start popping the champagne corks.
"Is the title race over? We still need another 30 points, it's still too early," he said before looking ahead to the United match.
"I want my players to take great pleasure in playing in the match against Manchester United without fear of going out in the second round.
"I have great faith that we'll do just that. They're a very dangerous team, especially from dead balls. I expect a great match."
The Italian champions will arrive at Tuesday's match at the San Siro in optimal form physically and mentally for what has been dubbed the tie of the round against the reigning world and European champions.
In Bologna, Inter dominated from the off with Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic as influential as ever.
But it wasn't until the 57th minute that Inter finally got the lead they deserved when Adriano headed down Maicon's corner to Esteban Cambiasso, who was left unmarked to calmly control the ball on his thigh and then rifle it into the roof of the net.
But on 79 minutes Miguel Britos rose highest to meet a corner and glanced his header in off the far post, despite Cambiasso standing next to the upright.
Mourinho threw young striker Balotelli into the fray and he proved the match-winner as his late free-kick was missed by everyone before bouncing in off the far post.
Juventus were mighty relieved to come away from Sicily with the three points after having been put under the cosh for the first half hour.
As Palermo dominated, Fabrizio Miccoli beat Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon but not the bar on four minutes.
Juve took the lead against the run of play on 27 minutes as Momo Sissoko strode forward unchallenged before thrashing a shot into the top corner.
Palermo continued to push for a goal while Juve contented themselves in playing on the counter-attack.
That ploy worked 11 minutes from time when former France forward David Trezeguet finished off from close range to celebrate his first start of the season by opening his goalscoring account for the campaign.
AS Roma moved up to fourth with a narrow 1-0 home victory over Siena courtesy of Brazilian Rodrigo Taddei's second-half goal.
The result leaves them only two points behind AC Milan in third and seven behind second-placed Juventus.