Rafael Benitez: ‘We left Champions League with our heads held high, and today I expected a response’ as Napoli drop Inter
Juventus and Napoli responded to respective exits from the Champions League with convincing wins over Sassuolo and Inter Milan in Italy’s Serie A on Sunday.
Roma now have even more incentive to win after Napoli closed the gap on them to two points after a thrilling 4-2 win over Inter, who were left in fifth place following Fiorentina’s 3-0 defeat of Bologna earlier in the day.
Napoli had lost out on second place in their Champions League Group F to Borussia Dortmund, despite amassing 12 points, and like Juventus wanted their return to domestic duty to be positive.
Coach Rafael Benitez, who had a brief spell at Inter in 2010, told Sky Sport Italia: “We left the Champions League with our heads held high, and today I expected a response.
“We were up against a strong side but it was a great win for us.”
Inter were reduced to 10 men in the 71st minute when Ricky Alvarez was shown a second yellow card, for handball, but by then most of the damage had been done.
Mazzarri was mostly applauded by fans of the club he steered to a second place finish last season, but departed feeling less buoyed with Inter now winless in their last four games.
“There were a series of glaring errors that influenced the game, especially the red card. I didn’t see Napoli being penalised for many of their fouls,” Mazzarri complained. “That was decisive.”
Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain opened the scoring for Napoli after just nine minutes when he smashed a volley past Samir Handanovic from the edge of the area.
Inter levelled on 35 minutes thanks to Esteban Cambiasso only for Napoli to restore their lead four minutes later when Dries Mertens pounced on a loose ball to beat Handanovic with a curling strike at his near post.
Blerim Dzemaili stretched Napoli’s lead two minutes later when he tapped home Lorenzo Insigne’s perfectly-weighted ball across the face of goal but Napoli were stunned on the stroke of half-time when Yuto Nagatomo reduced arrears.
Inter created several chances in a dramatic second but ultimately failed to capitalise.
Napoli suffered a scare when Rafael was left dazed and requiring treatment after a clash with Fredy Guarin as the Colombian threatened in close following Rodrigo Palacio’s cross.
Inter suffered their own blow when Alvarez was red carded and after Napoli coach Rafa Benitez replaced Higuain with Valon Behrami the hosts stretched their lead further.
Insigne was the provider, the Italy forward firing a perfectly-weighted ball for Jose Callejon at the back post to tap home past Handanovic in the 81st minute.
Napoli should have had a fifth, after Andrea Ranocchia was judged to have hauled down Goran Pandev, who had replaced Anthony Reveillere in the 91st minute, inside the box.
However Handanovic pulled off a superb diving save to beat Pandev’s spot kick at his left hand post.
Carlos Tevez scored a hat-trick, with Federico Peluso claiming his maiden Juve goal, as they bounced back from a 1-0 defeat at Galatasaray which left Antonio Conte’s men third in Group B and in the Europa League.
Conte wanted his side to win both pre-Christmas games, at home to Sassuolo and away to Atalanta, and Juve completed the first task with consummate ease.
It was Juve’s eighth consecutive win without conceding a goal and goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon told Sky Sport Italia: “It was a good way to make amends for Wednesday.
“The elimination hurt us, but now there’s another trophy we now have to try and win.”
He added: “That’s eight straight wins without conceding. Credit all round, also to our strikers, who are our first defenders.”
Juve remain top on 43 points with a six-point lead on Roma, who on Monday travel to AC Milan – Italy’s sole representative in the Champions League.
Fiorentina found goals from Josip Ilicic and Borja Valero in the first half and Giuseppe Rossi added another in the 64th minute to give Fiorentina their victory, which lifted them over Inter into fourth with a two-point cushion.
Lazio also topped Livorno 2-0 with a pair of goals from Miroslav Klose, and Torino beat Udinese 2-0 as well. Sampdoria took three points from Chievo away with a 1-0 victory and Genoa drew Atalanta 1-1 while Parma and Cagliari played to a scoreless draw.
Published: December 16, 2013 04:00 AM