x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Inter Milan deliver blow to Roma title hopes

Serie A title challengers held to a scoreless draw at a half-empty Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Roma's Mattia Destro reacts during their draw against Inter Milan. Giampiero Sposito / Reuters
Roma's Mattia Destro reacts during their draw against Inter Milan. Giampiero Sposito / Reuters

MILAN // Misfiring Roma’s championship hopes suffered a blow after Inter Milan held the Serie A title challengers to a scoreless draw at a half-empty Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Inter travelled to the capital looking to bounce back from a 1-1 draw with struggling Cagliari at home last week which left them fifth and 11 points off the Champions League places.

The statistics were firmly againt Walter Mazzarri’s side, who had won only one of their past 10 league games against Roma and taken home just a point from their past four visits to the Olympic Stadium.

But despite Roma shading a largely insipid encounter, helped little by a partial stadium ban which led to both ends of the ‘Olimpico’ being closed to home fans, Rudi Garcia’s men failed to snatch the win that would have put pressure on Juventus ahead of their trip to Milan on Sunday.

Roma now trail Juventus by eight points but still have a game in hand.

Roma, still missing captain Francesco Totti and defender Maicon, kept Samir Handanovic in the Inter net busy in an enterprising opening period.

But the hosts, who started with influential forward Miralem Pjanic on the bench due to a recent knee knock, lacked their usual spark and only really threatened after the Bosnian replaced Adem Ljajic just before the hour.

Ljajic tested Handanovic with a free kick from just outside the area after just two minutes but then, after expertly turning Jonathan inside the area, found no takers for his inviting ball across the goalmouth.

Mauro Icardi had helped set up Inter’s equaliser last week and the in-form Argentinian had calls for a penalty waved away after tangling with Mehdi Benatia as he volleyed wide.

Inter threatened again but Rodrigo Palacio sent a looping header over from Ricky Alvarez’s cross.

Roma finally had the ball in the net just after the half hour when Mattia Destro bundled the ball off Handanovic following Radja Nainggolan’s diving header, only to be ruled offside.

At the other end Alessio Romagnoli did well to block Jonathan with a sliding tackle as he teed up an angled drive yards from goal.

Brazilian midfielder Hernanes, signed last month from Lazio, came off the bench for Alvarez just after the hour.

Roma’s first sniff at goal after the interval did not come until halfway through when Gervinho sent his first-timer from Vasileios Torosidis’ weighted cross wide while under pressure from Rolando.

Nainggolan should have done better with an ambitious strike from outside the area after a promising build-up but Roma appeared to inch closer when a low drive from Pjanic forced Handanovic to parry on 75 minutes.

From the corner, the Bosnian’s glancing header went well wide of the Slovenian’s post.

Roma were finding more space and Nainggolan tested Handanovic with another long-range strike that inched just wide.

With 10 minutes remaining Garcia replaced Destro with Michel Bastos but as the clock ticked down tempers frayed.

Following a corner Romagnoli tumbled after tangling with Juan Jesus, with television pictures appearing to show the Roma defender suffering a punch in the ribs by the Brazilian.

Earlier in the game, however, Icardi looked to have suffered the same treatment when he took a punch from Daniele de Rossi.


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