Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o responded to racist taunts from Cagliari fans by scoring the only goal as Inter Milan beat Cagliari 1-0 Sunday.
The Serie A match was stopped in the third minute after some fans insulted Eto’o every time he kicked the ball. The officiating police inspector, Giuseppe Gargiulo, immediately ordered referee Paolo Tagliavento to suspend the match.
The game resumed after three minutes and supporters were warned that it would be abandoned if there was any more chanting.
The chants were targeted at Eto’o and came from the northern end of Cagliari’s Sant’Elia stadium, where Cagliari supporters known as "ultras" gather for matches.
During the three-minute suspension, fans in the rest of the stadium made their anger at the northern end clear and applauded loudly when the game resumed to drown out any more chants.
It is the first time that a game has been stopped for this reason in Italy.
"The referee did the right thing by intervening. This doesn’t happen enough at our stadiums," Bedy Moratti, the sister of Inter president Massimo Moratti, told ANSA news agency.
"We at Inter are unfortunately used to these chants, but it is the first time that a referee has taken action so soon after the start. The (public announcement) speaker reminded them all about the rules that exist and that they should be respected.
"It makes you happy to see a referee apply the rules so strictly," she said.
In Spain, Eto’o once threatened to walk off the pitch in protest following racist chanting by Real Zaragoza’s supporters. Such was the abuse he received that he stopped bringing family members to matches.
"If the problem occurs, and I hope it doesn’t, we can talk about it," Eto’o said at the time. "Unfortunately, these problems happen. I’m proud to be black and proud of my country, but all players are equal."
Inter coach Rafael Benitez said he was pleased by Sunday’s intervention.
"The good thing was that the supporters understood immediately," Benitez said. "Then all thoughts turned to football."
A year ago Eto’o and former Inter striker Mario Balotelli were subject to similar chanting and Balotelli was also the target of abuse from Juventus and Chievo Verona fans.
Remarkably, when Balotelli – an Italian of Ghanaian descent – complained about the level of abuse he received, the Italian Football Association fined him 7,000 euros ($10,000).
There has also been abuse against black players from Treviso and Lazio. In 2005, Ivorian defender Marc Zoro was reduced to tears by racist boos and insults hurled at him by Inter supporters.
This weekend was particularly sensitive for authorities in Italy after Serbia fans forced the suspension of the 2010 European Championship qualifier in Genoa on Tuesday.
Security around stadiums was increased and on Saturday night police arrested three Lazio fans for possession of offensive weapons on a bridge leading to Rome’s Olympic Stadium before Roma’s match with Genoa.
This season supporters’ passports have been introduced by the authorities in an attempt to restore order in and around stadiums.
Victory wasn’t enough to put Inter top of Serie A after Lazio hit two-second half goals to beat Bari.
Hernanes hit the opener in the 52nd and Sergio Floccari wrapped up the win in the 61st.
Lazio is first with 16 points, two points ahead of AC Milan and Inter, which are tied on 14. Milan beat Chievo 3-1 on Saturday.
Eto’o scored in the 39th minute, beating Davide Astori on the edge of the area and firing past Cagliari goalkeeper Michael Agazzi.
Eto’o celebrated by dancing with the rest of his Inter teammates and bench.
"He’s in great form at the moment and that is good for us," Benitez said. "We are able to score goals in other ways though."
After the interruption, both sides played cautiously with Maicon and Coutinho shooting from long range for Inter.
Cagliari had a chance when Andrea Cossu shot wide in the 36th.
Early in the second half, Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar denied Cossu an equalizer with a double block.
"I’m happy today as I was able to make my contribution at important times in the match to help Inter win," Cesar said.
There was little Julio Cesar could do in the 75th, though, when Andrea Lazzari’s cross deflected off Cristian Chivu but came back off the bar before Inter scrambled the ball to safety.
Six minutes from full time Cagliari had one more chance, but Alessandro Matri fired the ball over the bar from close range.
"It wasn’t great, but it is always tricky against Cagliari," Julio Cesar said. "It is never a side that gives less than 100 percent, but we have got the three points and can move on from here."
In other matches Sunday, Alberto Aquilani scored his first goal for Juventus since joining on loan from Liverpool. The midfielder opened the scoring in the 13th and set Juventus on its way to a 4-0 win at home to Lecce.
Aquilani scored with a long-range shot from outside the area. Milos Krasic was then brought down for a penalty and Felipe Melo chipped Antonio Rosati from the spot to score. Juventus scored again before halftime when Fabio Quagliarella converted Krasic’s cross.
Alessandro Del Piero came off the bench late in the second half and found the net in the 82nd after Krasic’s run caused panic in the Lecce defense.
"(Krasic) is a very important player and adds a lot to our team," Juventus coach Luigi Delneri said. "We are trying to get the best out of his qualities and getting him in the type of shape so he can play to his best as much as possible."