Milan: Inter saw their hopes of Champions League football for the coming season become an ever distant dream on Sunday night, as a pitiful showing in defence allowed a rampant Fiorentina to run out 4-1 winners.
Strike pair Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic were the stars of the show, both bagging two goals as they made a mockery of their illustrious rivals from start to finish.
Given an unexpected chance to close the gap on Juventus following the Serie A leaders` 1-0 reverse at Roma, Inter instead contrived to throw away their opportunity thanks to a nightmare first half in Florence. Gaps appeared across the away defence, which Fiorentina gleefully exploited as they poured forward in numbers and with purpose.
Stevan Jovetic almost handed his side the lead less than three minutes into the encounter, latching on to a lofted ball from David Pizarro only to be denied one-on-one with Samir Handanovic, the keeper stopping the Montenegrin`s effort with his legs. Jovetic, however, was unbowed: with 13 minutes gone, the forward did brilliantly to nod Manuel Pasqual`s cross into the path of Ljajic, who was completely untroubled by any man in white as he got down low to head in from short range.
Inter needed to respond, and finally had an effort on the Viola net through Zdravko Kuzmanovic`s speculative shot, but it was Fiorentina who would continue to dominate proceedings. Tenacious play from Alberto Aquilani led to the hosts robbing possession on the edge of the Nerazzurri area, and the midfielder laid off to Jovetic who released a stunning strike past Handanovic and further sink the lacklustre visitors.
The only consolation for Inter was that, in truth, the first 45 minutes could have ended a great deal worse. Handanovic was called into action time and again as the Fiorentina frontmen took target practice at his posts, aided by a back line that had gone missing in action. Borja Valero was denied by the keeper`s legs after receiving a cross unmarked at the back post, while Aquilani also forced an excellent save from the harassed Slovenian, but while Inter could count themselves lucky to be only 2-0 down a vastly improved performance was required after the break if they wished to take anything from the encounter.
Nothing, however, appeared to change at the start of the second half as Fiorentina continued to take the initiative. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado almost added a third five minutes in, as his savage left-footed shot was deflected inches wide of Handanovic`s left post to save Inter from what would have been the coup de grace on their evening.
The jubilant home fans did not have to wait too much longer though. A defensive mix-up for Inter left Aquilani in possession of the ball, and it was all so simple for the Italian as he threaded through to Jovetic with the heel. The 23-year-old was blissfully free in the area, and had time to take aim and smash the ball past the hapless Handanovic to end Inter`s interest in the contest.
The home team were coasting to victory, but were still in the mood to twist the knife. Nobody in white checked Valero as he marched on goal down the left, and he found Ljajic who was similarly untroubled in bending a lovely effort into the corner of the net. The Nerazzurri were a shambles, and Antonio Cassano could barely muster a celebration for his brilliant long-range consolation as Fiorentina marched to an impressive three points.
The loss means Inter remain 11 points shy of Juve at the summit, and fail to climb above Lazio in Italy`s final Champions League spot. The Romans can go four clear of Andrea Stramaccioni`s men if they defeat Siena on Monday, while Fiorentina are hot on their heels moving just one behind in sixth.
First Published: Monday, February 18, 2013, 08:55