Italian Serie A Roundup, Apr. 2
AC Milan put itself in pole position to win the Serie A after beating Inter Milan 3-0 and extending its lead over Inter in the standings to five points on Saturday.
''We may be five points ahead, but we have seven games to play and there are 21 points on offer and we can't make any mistakes,'' Milan coach Massimo Allegri said. ''When we are mathematically unreachable we will celebrate, but thinking about those things now is pointless and just wastes energy.''
Milan was the better side throughout and managed to completely nullify the influence of Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto'o.
Alexandre Pato scored twice, while defender Cristian Chivu was sent off for pulling the Brazilian down as he raced through on goal early in the second half.
Pato's first came in the opening minute, and the second was soon after Inter went down to 10 men. Antonio Cassano made it three with a penalty one minute from time.
Cassano then became the second player to be sent off. He was booked after taking his shirt off in celebration, then fouled Ivan Cordoba to earn a second yellow card and an automatic one-match suspension.
''We stayed calm and played good football,'' Allegri said. ''We didn't let Inter have many chances to score and we had a lot of chances ourselves.
''I am sorry about Cassano's sending off, but that aside it was a good evening. Of course Cassano could have avoided making the foul.''
Both teams have seven games remaining and Inter could be overtaken by Napoli if it beats Lazio on Sunday.
''I don't believe it is over, but five points is five points and that is a lot,'' Inter coach Leonardo said. ''The early goal really affected the match and gave Milan a confidence boost. If we had equalized before halftime it would really have changed the game.
''We are a mature team though and won't get too worked up by this result.''
Milan scored with the first attack of the game. Gennaro Gattuso linked up with Pato to set up Robinho with a chance. Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar deflected the ball into the Pato's path and he slotted it into the empty net.
Pato then nearly turned provider when he crossed to the far post, but Robinho was just short when he slid in.
Referee Nicola Rizzoli then waved away Milan's appeals for a penalty after Clarence Seedorf volleyed Ignazio Abate's cross at Maicon.
The best Inter managed in the opening exchanges was a free kick by Sneijder which he blasted high and wide, and seconds later Milan re-exerted its dominance of the opening period when Seedorf volleyed over the bar when Inter failed to clear a corner.
Eventually Giampaolo Pazzini squeezed between Gianluca Zambrotta and Alessandro Nesta to fire in a shot, but Milan 'keeper Christian Abbiati had the relatively simple task of stopping it with his knees.
Pato and Zambrotta went close with long-range shots as Milan maintained the pressure on Inter's goal, and Inter defender Andrea Ranocchia had to react quickly to stop Pato, who had been played in behind Inter's defense.
Milan continued to press for a second and Robinho was given a yellow card after he tumbled theatrically in the box in a vain attempt to win a penalty.
In the 38th Mark Van Bommel let fly with a long-range shot that came back off the bar and into the grasp of a grateful Cesar.
Inter was convinced that it had equalized when Thiago Motta's header was stopped by an athletic save by Abbiati, but Rizzoli said it hadn't crossed the line.
Nine minutes into the second half Inter was reduced to 10 men when Chivu was sent off for tripping Pato. Kevin Prince Boateng played the Brazilian into space behind the Inter defense and as he bore down on goal Chivu brought him down just outside the area.
From the free kick Van Bommel's shot was punched away by Cesar.
''I wanted to keep going but he kicked me on the back of the foot and I went down,'' Pato said. ''The referee sent him off and we had the penalty. I am happy as the referee did the right thing because it was a definite goalscoring opportunity.''
Milan doubled its lead in the 62nd when Seedorf picked out Abate unmarked on the right of the area and he crossed to the far post where Pato prodded the ball home.
Inter immediately brought on last season's leading scorer Diego Milito for the increasingly isolated Pazzini, but it had little effect.
Mathieu Flamini set up Robinho for a shot that Cesar parried and Ranocchia then flung himself in the way of Boateng's effort.
Robinho had another chance, but after going round Cesar, Cordoba got back to block his shot. Cesar then made another save when he denied Boateng.
One minute from time Inter captain Javier Zanetti completed a miserable night for his team when he bundled over Cassano. The substitute picked himself up and secured the result for Milan to beat Inter twice in the league for the first time since 2003-04.