Inter stay ahead as top three win
© AFP

Rebel striker Mario Balotelli made a goalscoring return for Inter Milan on Saturday as the champions beat Bologna 3-0 while AS Roma and AC Milan also won to keep up the Serie A title pressure.

Mirko Vucinic scored the only goal of the game as second-placed AS Roma triumphed 1-0 at Bari, to stay one point behind Inter, while Milan stayed three points off top with a 3-2 success at Cagliari.

Inter came into their game in poor league form having won only two of their previous nine matches, but they dominated despite suffering from a number of suspensions, notably captain Javier Zanetti, Cameroon forward Samuel Eto'o and Brazilian defenders Maicon and Lucio.

But, having apologised publically in midweek for his part in a bust-up with coach Jose Mourinho, Balotelli, who had been frozen out for the previous six matches, ensured Eto'o's absence was hardly felt. He was involved in much of Inter's attacking work and got his name on the scoresheet with a low right-foot finish from Diego Milito's cross seven minutes after the break.

We won't buckle, we're in good shape. It can happen that our level dips for one game, the other teams can play better than us, but we're in good shape.
Claudio Ranieri on Roma's chances in the run-in

Brazilian midfielder Thiago Motta had given Inter a first half lead with a low shot from distance just before the half hour mark. And he rounded off the scoring with a crisp curling left-foot finish five minutes from time after playing a one-two with Dejan Stankovic as he burst into the box.

Inter midfielder Esteban Cambiasso admitted that their rivals have the advanatge on them as they are not playing in Europe any more. "We're first, one point ahead. It won't be easy but if we win all our remaining matches we'll be champions," he said. "Roma have an advantage, though, because they're not in the Champions League whereas we have to think about that."

Roma, Milan keep their cool
Roma produced a professional and controlled performance decided by Vucinic's 19th minute goal in a game of few chances and little action. Coach Claudio Ranieri was rewarded for his bold team selection of a three-pronged attack with Francesco Totti and Vucinic flanking Luca Toni as the three combined for the winner. Totti fed Toni on the edge of the box and he slipped in Vucinic running in behind him to finish with aplomb.

And with six matches left Ranieri insisted his team would not yield in the run-in. "We won't buckle, we're in good shape. It can happen that our level dips for one game, the other teams can play better than us, but we're in good shape," he said. "We have a chance we could not have imagined a few months ago and now we have to fight for every ball.

"Inter are favourites because they're ahead, they have a monster of a squad to fight on all fronts, but for us, this win and staying one point behind gives us enthusiasm, belief and an adrenaline boost," he said.

Milan's victory came courtesy of a crazy first half in which all five goals were scored. Marco Borriello opened the scoring on seven minutes after he played a one-two with Clarence Seedorf and then finished right-footed inside the near post.

But Daniele Ragatzu levelled 10 minutes later with a low shot from just inside the area. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar restored Milan's advantage two minutes after that with a long-range effort into the top corner past Italy international goalkeeper Federico Marchetti.

Cagliari were level again just after the half-hour mark following a three-on-two counter-attack with Alessandro Matri finishing high past Dida. But seven minutes before the break Milan grabbed their winner with a comical own goal as Ignazio Abate's cross was pushed out by Marchetti onto Davide Astori's thigh and over the line.

Turin giants Juventus saw their slim hopes of a top four finish hit once again as they slumped 3-0 at lowly Udinese. Their only saving grace was that fourth-placed Palermo fell 2-0 to Catania in the Sicilian derby, leaving them three points ahead of seventh-placed Juve.