Misfiring AS Roma’s championship hopes suffered a blow after Inter held the Serie A title challengers to a scoreless draw at a half-empty Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
Inter traveled to the capital looking to bounce back from a 1-1 draw with struggling Cagliari at home last week which left them fifth and 11 points off the Champions League places.
The statistics were firmly against Walter Mazzarri’s side, who had won only one of their past 10 league games against Roma and taken home just a point from their past four visits to the Olympic Stadium.
However, despite Roma shading a largely insipid encounter, helped little by a partial stadium ban which led to both ends of the Olimpico being closed to home fans, Rudi Garcia’s men failed to snatch the win that would have put pressure on Juventus, who are to travel to Milan today.
Roma trail Juventus by eight points, but still have a game in hand.
After a game featuring punches from Daniele de Rossi and Juan Jesus that went unpunished by match officials, Garcia refused to criticize his players.
“I think it’s a fair result. Inter played well, especially in first 30 minutes of the first half,” the Frenchman told Sky Sport Italia. “But when you can’t win, the next most important thing is not to lose.”
Asked about the title race, Garcia added: “It’s too early to say. Nothing’s been decided yet.”
Inter did well to take a share of the spoils, although the Serie A draw kings, who top the league with 11 draws, were waiting on yesterday’s result between Verona and Bologna with a Verona win sending them to sixth.
“We had a great first half, I’m happy with the lads’ performances. All that was missing was a goal,” Mazzarri said.
Roma, still missing captain Francesco Totti and defender Maicon, kept Samir Handanovic in the Inter net busy in an enterprising opening period.
The hosts, who started with influential forward Miralem Pjanic on the bench due to a recent knee knock, lacked their usual spark and only really threatened after the Bosnian replaced Adem Ljajic just before the hour.
Mauro Icardi had calls for a penalty waved away after tangling with Mehdi Benatia as he volleyed wide and Inter threatened again, but Rodrigo Palacio sent a looping header over from Ricky Alvarez’s cross.
Roma finally had the ball in the net just after the half hour when Mattia Destro bundled the ball off Handanovic following Radja Nainggolan’s diving header, only to be ruled offside.
At the other end Alessio Romagnoli did well to block Jonathan with a sliding tackle as he teed up an angled drive yards from goal.
Brazilian midfielder Hernanes, signed last month from SS Lazio, came off the bench for Alvarez just after the hour.
Roma’s first sniff at goal after the interval did not come until halfway through, when Gervinho sent his first-timer from Vasileios Torosidis’ weighted cross wide while under pressure from Rolando.
Nainggolan should have done better with an ambitious strike from outside the area after a promising build-up, but Roma appeared to inch closer when a low drive from Pjanic forced Handanovic to parry on 75 minutes.
From the corner, the Bosnian’s glancing header went well wide of the Slovenian’s post.
Roma were finding more space, and Nainggolan tested Handanovic with another long-range strike that inched just wide.
With 10 minutes remaining, Garcia replaced Destro with Michel Bastos, but tempers frayed as the clock ticked down.
Following a corner, Romagnoli tumbled after tangling with Juan Jesus, with television pictures appearing to show the Roma defender suffering a punch in the ribs by the Brazilian.
Earlier in the game, Icardi looked to have suffered the same treatment when he took a punch from de Rossi.