x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Inter's treble chances have blossomed

Italy's league title has seemed lately as if it is largely being fought out through terse statements and third parties.

Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho will watch his side host Chievo today.
Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho will watch his side host Chievo today.

MILAN // Italy's league title has seemed lately as if it is largely being fought out through terse statements and third parties. Roma, who trail Inter Milan by two points with two fixtures remaining, have had their last face-to-face combat with the league leaders, and, on Wednesday night in the Coppa Italia final, a season of ebb and flow between the two clubs closed a circle.

Inter's 1-0 win meant that in three direct meetings, Roma and Inter have both won once, and each side has scored three times in 270 minutes against the other. Not much to separate them on the pitch, then. Hence the distinctions being sought elsewhere. "Inter are arrogant," fumed Roma's Luca Toni to reporters after the Cup final. "Arrogant?" responded Inter's Marco Materazzi to Lombardy journalists, "Roma should be ashamed of their behaviour on the pitch."

Materazzi referred above all to Francesco Totti's savage kick at Mario Balotelli late in the final. It earned the Roma captain a red card, and was followed by allegations by Balotelli's agent that his player had been insulted, even racially, by Totti. By Friday Totti had issued a firm denial on his personal website, and added that he had heard Balotelli insulting his Roman origins. In all this breathless tit-for-tat, even bystanders need to take care. Like Lazio, whose tepid performance in the 2-0 Serie A defeat last Sunday against Inter drew the scorn of Roma president Rosella Sensi, who suspected Lazio had rolled over just to spite Roma and said so.

To which Inter coach Jose Mourinho, being Jose Mourinho, responded with the suggestion Roma might be inclined to devote the unused win-bonus funds from their Coppa Italia kitty to reward Siena's players should the already-relegated team achieve a result against Inter on the final day of the league season, next weekend. The Italian authorities view Mourinho's light-hearted comment as less than a joke, while praising Claudio Ranieri, the Roma coach, for his sportsmanship after a very tetchy cup final.

This afternoon's bystanders are, first, Chievo, who go to San Siro fully aware that the three points have little relevance for them in their mid-table zone and every significance for Inter, whom, just to complicate matters, Chievo's president Luca Campedelli supports. And, second, Cagliari, who have a mere taken three points from their last five league matches, and visit the Olimpico, knowing Roma, realistically, need to win to keep the pressure on the defending champions.

For Inter, Lucio remains a likely absentee, with a thigh injury. For Roma, Totti can expect great scrutiny in the next eight days. His rash action against Balotelli may influence whether the Roma captain, who is willing to reverse his international retirement, is asked to go to the World Cup. With the end in sight, Inter's pursuit of a possible treble has now turned into the chase of a decidedly probable one. Beating Roma last Wednesday in Rome may even have been the toughest of their grand finales. Inter are fancied to win the Champions League final on May 22 against Bayern Munich in Madrid. In between, there remain two league fixtures that, on paper, do little to daunt.

sports@thenational.ae Inter v Chievo, Aljazeera Sport +1, Roma v Cagliari, Aljazeera Sport +2, both at 9pm