ROME - Lazio moved joint-top of Serie A
with a 3-1 home win over Inter Milan on Friday which plunged the
champions and coach Rafael Benitez into a fresh crisis after the
worst of their problems seemed to have passed.
Giuseppe Biava bundled the ball home midway through the
first half and Argentine forward Mauro Zarate struck with a lob
early in the second period to show that the early season form of
last term's relegation candidates was no false dawn.
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The visitors pulled a goal back through ex-Lazio forward
Goran Pandev after a couple of rebounds but in-form Brazilian
Hernanes sealed victory in style with a minute remaining.
"It was the best Lazio of the season," playmaker Hernanes,
who joined the club before the start of the campaign from Sao
Paolo, told reporters.
"I've been trying for a bit to have a game like this with a
goal and an assist. We're on the right path and won't give up,"
added Hernanes who played the ball through for Zarate's goal.
A recent wobble by Lazio had pundits suggesting their
resurgence was over but a confident performance against the
treble winners will have tongues wagging again about whether Edy
Reja's Rome-based side can last the pace in the title battle.
The match was Inter's last in Serie A this year ahead of
their participation in the Club World Cup and the pressure is
back on Benitez after wins against Twente Enschede and Parma had
seemed to secured his position after a shaky spell.
Injury-hit Inter, who saw Dejan Stankovic limp off in the
first half and were also without suspended top scorer Samuel
Eto'o, played youth team defender Felice Natalino at right back
while midfielder Sulley Muntari returned from a layoff.
They again lacked fluency and the only bright spot was the
previously struggling Pandev breaking his season's duck as the
boos rang out around the half-full Stadio Olimpico.
Inter's dearth of attacking options without Eto'o and with
Diego Milito only just back in training after injury means a
move in the January transfer market for a striker is paramount.
"We knew it would be a tough game before the World Club Cup
and without our two best forwards but the team battled until the
end," Benitez said.
Inter owner Massimo Moratti has said he is willing to delve
into his pockets to avoid the European champions from sinking
even further but has described reports of a bid for Sampdoria's
banished striker Antonio Cassano as "fantasy football".
Italy forward Cassano could become a free agent if an
arbitration panel, which was due to meet on Friday but will now
convene next week, rules he breached his contract by verbally
abusing the Samp president.
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