Inter slip up against Udinese
Udinese helped breathe life beack into the Serie A title race as they held champions, and league leaders, Inter Milan to a 0-0 draw at home on Sunday.
That result, coupled with second-placed Roma's 1-0 success in the Stadio Olimpico against Palermo on Saturday meant the gap at the top of the table was cut to just five points. It was the first time that Inter had failed to win in the league since early November and came after a run of eight straight victories.
But they were not helped by the controversial first-half dismissal of Brazilian midfielder Rodriguez Cesar for two yellow cards. The first appeared harsh while the second seemed unfortunate as he claimed he had won the ball in a tackle with Fabio Quagliarella.
Inter continued their media boycott, due to their perceived mistreatment in the press, but Udinese coach Pasquale Marino paid tribute to the courage of the 10 men.
"You never noticed Inter's numerical disadvantage," Marino said. "They played a great match. They created many chances, they're a great team and deserve to be top."
Despite playing with 10 men, Inter came closest to winning the game. In-form Argentine striker Julio Cruz beat his marker just before half-time but then fired wide.
After the break star Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic had the ball in the net from a rapier counter-attack but his equisite lob over goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was disallowed because he had eased his marker off the ball before finishing with aplomb.
AC Milan bounced back from their disappointing midweek loss at Atalanta by beating Genoa 2-0 for their second victory of the season at the San Siro. Teenage Brazilian striker Pato was the star of the show, bagging both goals in a dazzling performance. He could even have doubled his tally, so many were his chances during the match.
He scored his first with a simple header after Dutch veteran Clarence Seedorf headed Andrea Pirlo's cross back across goal to the unmarked Brazilian. Pato then escaped the backline only to see goalkeeper Rubens Rubinho handle his attempted chip outside the box and receive his marching orders.
Pato was not to be denied a second, though, as he finished past substitute goalkeeper Alessio Scarpi at the second attempt. Those two goals took Pato's tally to three in four games since making his debut following the three-week winter break.
"Pato is just doing what we expect of him," said Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti. "He is young and at times lacks a bit of composure but he keeps getting in scoring positions."
That result moved Milan up to seventh in the table as they chase Fiorentina for the crucial fourth spot and final UEFA Champions League qualification position. The Viola gained their fourth straight victory with a vital 2-0 success at lowly Empoli thanks to former Chelsea forward Adrian Mutu's goal five minutes from time and Giampaolo Pazzini's injury-time clincher.
Fiorentina moved level on points with third-placed Juventus, who were due to play at Livorno in Saturday's late game. Milan remain 10 points behind Fiorentina but with two games in hand, the next of which they play in midweek at Reggina.
Rock-bottom Cagliari won for the first time in 14 league matches as they scored two injury-time goals to hit-back and beat visitors Napoli 2-1 in Sardinia.