Mon, Apr 13, 2009 - Page 18 News List

LEGA CALCIO: Juventus blow chance to close gap on Inter

AFP , ROME

Lazio goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, left, punches the ball away from teammate Sebastiano Siviglia, center, and AS Roma’s Philippe Mexes during their Serie A match at the Olympic Stadium in Rome on Saturday.

PHOTO: AP

Serie A leaders Inter dropped two home points on Saturday, but still increased their lead over Juventus at the top of the table ahead of the pair’s mouth-watering showdown in Turin next week.

Palermo looked to have breathed new life into the title race with a gritty comeback in a 2-2 draw at the San Siro, but 10-man Juventus then controversially lost 3-2 at Genoa to leave Inter 10 points clear with just seven games left.

The day began with Italian soccer mourning the victims of the Abruzzo earthquake with a minute’s silence observed at all top flight matches, while players wore black armbands for the disaster which has claimed 291 lives.

In Genoa, Juventus started the match knowing a victory would cut Inter’s lead to seven points, but with their hosts chasing fourth place and Champions League soccer next season it was always going to be a tall order.

The game exploded into life on 29 minutes when Genoa took the lead through a strike from Thiago Motta on the edge of the area.

Referee Gianluca Rocchi actually blew his whistle for a foul on Giandomenico Mesto just before Motta’s strike beat Gianluigi Buffon in Juve’s goal.

However, Rocchi then decided to let the goal stand, infuriating the Juve players who had heard the whistle.

On the stroke of halftime, Rocchi then evened up the controversial decisions by awarding Juve a penalty for a foul by Matteo Ferrari on Alessandro Del Piero when the Genoa center-back seemed clearly to win the ball.

Del Piero stroked home the spot-kick, but deep into first-half injury-time Motta scored his second of the game with a bullet header from a corner.

Juve’s chances of salvaging something from the match then took a blow on 65 minutes when Mauro Camoranesi was sent off for a foul on Giuseppe Sculli.

Six minutes from time, Vincenzo Iaquinta’s clever, chipped finish seemed to have stolen a point for Juve.

But with just two minutes left, Marco Rossi beat the offside trap and squared for former Juve player Raffaele Palladino to tap home into the open net for a dramatic late winner.

“They played better than us, there’s no doubt about that,” Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri said. “We played with stubborness, but if we didn’t manage to impose ourselves that was to our opponents’ credit. It’s a big blow not closing the gap. Now we have the match against them at home. We need to be very determined and to play with more energy.”

In Milan, Inter had been cruising with a 2-0 lead at halftime, before two goals in two minutes by Palermo cost them a victory and irked boss Jose Mourinho.

“The first half was amongst our best this season, but we played the second period without concentration and little intensity,” Mourinho said. “But I don’t think that those chasing us can win their last seven matches. Next Saturday, however, will be a completely different story. I’m sure that my team can practically end the uncertainty in Turin.”

Palermo’s ineffectual offside trap contributed greatly to Inter taking the lead as Mario Balotelli ran past a static Morris Carrozzieri to head home Sulley Muntari’s cross on 15 minutes.

Inter doubled the advantage six minutes before the break when Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted a penalty he had won when going down in the box following contact with the unlucky Simon Kjaer.

However, Brazilian forward Edison Cavani beat veteran goalkeeper Francesco Toldo at his near post on 73 minutes and then substitute Davide Succi lost marker Cristian Chivu to tap home Fabrizio Miccoli’s cross from close range.

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