Inter Milan executed the perfect smash-and-grab raid to win 1-0 at Torino on Sunday and open up a six-point gap at the top of Serie A with just four games left.
Julio Cruz’s brilliant diving header on the half hour from Mario Balotelli’s corner proved the difference in a game that saw the leaders dominated for large periods.
Torino lacked the finishing touch of their visitors and almost conceded a second minutes after the first when teenage striker Balotelli’s deflected volley came back off the post.
Torino’s best chance fell to Nicola Ventola seven minutes from time after a mistake by Nicolas Burdisso but the striker shot straight at Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Inter midfielder Dejan Stankovic admitted the champions had been lucky.
“We played really badly but you can’t always win and put on a show,” he said. “Tonight we had to work really hard for the three points.”
World player of the year Kaka scored a hat-trick as AC Milan beat lowly Reggina 5-1 at the San Siro to keep alive their Champions League qualification hopes.
Milan are still four points behind Fiorentina, who beat Palermo 1-0 at home on Saturday, with four matches to play as they chase that crucial fourth place and a slot in Europe’s premier competition next season.
Sixth-placed Sampdoria stayed level on points with Milan as they beat Udinese 3-0 at home, leaving the seventh-placed north-easterners eight points behind Fiorentina and out of the Champions League race.
Third-placed Juventus need only one more point to ensure they play Champions League football next season as veteran striker Alessandro Del Piero scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 victory at Atalanta.
Milan got off to a flying start with Kaka putting them ahead from the penalty spot after he was brought down by Francesco Modesto.
Luca Vigiani brought down veteran Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf on 34 minutes and Kaka held his nerve a second time from 12 yards.
But five minutes before the break, Reggina pulled one back through Edgar Barreto, who sent a fizzing strike into the top corner of Australian goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac’s net.
Kaka completed his treble with a low right-footed shot from the left into the far corner and super-poacher Filippo Inzaghi mopped up the loose ball after substitute Pato’s shot was turned onto a post by goalkeeper Andrea Campagnolo.
Pato put the final gloss on the result, heading home a cross from French midfielder Yohann Gourcuff.
“For us the motivation is finishing fourth,” said Kaka. “We’re still in there, we still hope, we believe and we’re working for this.
“Fiorentina are having a great season but we can do it and we believe in ourselves.”
In Genoa, either Sampdoria or Udinese, or possibly both, had to drop out of Champions League contention.
Two first half goals from the hosts ensured it wasn’t them.
On-loan Real Madrid forward Antonio Cassano stooped low to head home a free-kick on 24 minutes and then Claudio Bellucci doubled the lead a minute before the break.
Ten minutes after the restart he then converted a spot-kick after Aleksander Lukovic was penalised for a foul on Cristian Maggio.
Juventus killed off woeful Atalanta inside six minutes with Del Piero starring.
Nicola Legrottaglie headed home the forward’s free-kick in the first minute and then Del Piero slotted home a pass from David Trezeguet on six minutes.
On 34 minutes the evergreen striker beat the offside trap to score and midway through the second half he latched onto another Trezeguet flick to cooly slot home past Ferdinando Coppola.
Tempers flared in Parma as the hosts lost 2-1 to Napoli with four players – three from Parma – sent off.
Second-placed AS Roma’s Serie A title hopes suffered a blow as they were held to a 1-1 draw by then rock bottom Livorno at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.
Roma suffered a double blow when captain Francesco Totti was ruled out for the season following knee surgery on Sunday.
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