Milito gives Inter slim advantage
Diego Milito scored the only goal of the game to give Inter Milan a 1-0 win over Fiorentina and a slight advantage in their Coppa Italia semi-final after the first leg at the San Siro on Wednesday.
However, they will have a long wait to see if they make the final or not as the second leg will not be played until 14 April. Milito scored in the 34th minute after he was set up by Mario Balotelli, although Inter had chances to make the victory more emphatic.
In a competition often shown little respect by teams, Inter coach Jose Mourinho had said before the game that he wanted to make the final and that was demonstrated by his selection which was as good as his first choice XI, with only goalkeeper Julio Cesar rested. But the win was marred by a spat between Mourinho and Balotelli midway through the second half that saw the coach haul off his errant star as punishment for complaining about having hurt himself rather than getting back to defend a corner.
"I prefer the result to the way my team played, I was expecting more from them in the second half. Fiorentina had control of the match and forced me to make certain changes," said Mourinho before explaining his decision to replace Balotelli.
"In my system players must always defend, even if they have a problem, they've hurt themselves or lost a contact lens. First they have to defend and then they can deal with the other problems."
Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli was satisfied with his team and played down fears that his small squad would struggle to cope with their commitments on three fronts - the league, UEFA Champions League and cup. "We played well, we gave away the right amount of ground to Inter, maybe we could have been a little more fluid in front of goal," he said.
"We have commitments on three fronts and we'll try to manage each game one at a time. We're proud to be able to be fighting on three fronts."
In a low key opening Inter created the only recognisable chances in the first half hour with shots from Maicon and Milito causing no problems for Sebastien Frey. But in controversial circumstances the hosts went ahead as Balotelli got behind Cesare Natali with the Fiorentina defender stopping to protest but the teenage forward continued and laid the ball on a plate for Milito to fire Inter in front.
Fiorentina were angered by that and came out firing with Peru international winger Juan Vargas firing two efforts wide. But on the stroke of half-time Inter almost doubled their lead as Manuel Pasqual had to clear a Balotelli header off the line with Frey well beaten.
Veteran Inter goalkeeper Francesco Toldo had to be alert to deny Mario Santana early in the second period before Milito had the ball in the net a second time after Frey saved substitute Goran Pandev's effort, but the Argentine's strike was ruled out for offside. Fiorentina substitute Stevan Jovetic had a great chance to restore parity from Pasqual's cross but he headed straight at Toldo.
Balotelli's eventful game, in which he also bled from a kick to the head in the first half, came to an end midway through the second period as Mourinho replaced him with Thiago Motta. And the impetuous youngster will likely find himself in hot water on Thursday after failing to hide his displeasure and storming off straight to the changing rooms.
Inter came close again as Wesley Sneijder sent a free-kick from out wide just over the bar. And they should have wrapped up the victory deep into injury time but Pandev fired wide on the break. Roma host Udinese in the second semi-final first leg on Thursday.