MILAN // Every successful season looks back on two or three defining moments that mark out the champions. Inter will feel they had one of those on Saturday. The 3-0 win at Lazio was one that the players will have wanted to be a part of. A good night then for Hernan Crespo, under used of late, to get a rare hour on the pitch, a bad one to be watching from the distance of the junior ranks, where striker Mario Balotelli had been sent by head coach Jose Mourinho.
Lazio had beaten Milan in the cup three days earlier, and the Olimpico is seldom an easy place to go. Yet Inter led after two minutes, Walter Samuel converting a left-wing cross from Ali Sulley Muntari that had just eluded Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They never looked like relinquishing that early advantage. A Modibo Diakite own goal, under pressure from Crespo, doubled Inter's advantage before half-time and Ibrahimovic, with a precise header, completed a handsome away win.
"We looked a real team," said Mourinho, whose only set-backs were a strain to Samuel's thigh and seeing Julio Cruz limp off. The Argentina striker was replaced by his eager compatriot, Crespo, who will see the dropping of Balotelli and Adriano as an opportunity to stake his claim to a role up front. Inter can now survey the Juventus-Milan meeting next weekend from an assured position of superiority. Lazio simply hear the steady tread of familiar footsteps behind them.
It was not a good night for Lazio all round. Against Inter they complained long and loud to referee Daniele Orsato for disallowing a goal from a free-kick that the official said had been taken before he had signalled and, earlier, Roma won too, closing the gap between the capital's clubs in the Serie A table to just three points. A Jeremy Menez strike was sufficient to continue Roma's revival, at the expense of Chievo, whose Christmas will seem bleak. The Veronese are almost certain to be occupying the relegation zone when Serie A enters its winter break.