Inter bulldoze their way past a hard-working Chievo side, despite the heroics of goalkeeper Christian Puggioni, thrashing their opponents to win for the first time in three gamesInter leapfrog city rivals AC Milan in Sunday's Serie A evening kick-off, beating Chievo 3-1 at San Siro, which takes Andrea Stramaccioni's men into fourth place in the table.
Goals from Antonio Cassano, Andrea Ranocchia and Diego Milito contributed to Inter's commanding victory, allowing Nerazzurri to capitalise on dropped points over the weekend from Napoli, Lazio and Milan. A solitary goal from Luca Rigoni wasn't enough for the visitors, and without Christian Puggioni in goal, the deficit could have been far larger.
Inside the opening two minutes, Inter grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. Javier Zanetti drove down the right, winning a corner. The resulting set piece was swung towards the back post by Antonio Cassano, and after both Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus failed to head home, the ball found its way back to the corner taker. On the half volley, Cassano smashed a drive towards the near post and the ball wriggled its way into the back of the net, following suspect goalkeeping from Chievo's Christian Puggioni, giving the home side a dream start.
The early set-back aside, Chievo gave a good account of themselves, pressing high and forcing extra men forward at any opportunity. On 12 minutes however, Francesco Acerbi was left with his head in his hands, as the former Milan defender somehow failed to equalise for the visitors.
The centre-half found himself in acres of space in the Inter penalty area, following a well-weighted free-kick delivery, and seemingly just had to get some firm contact on the ball to turn it home. Such simplicity escaped him, and his deftly flicked header skipped off the turf, going centimetres wide of Samir Handanovic's back post.
On 21 minutes however, the away side were not ruing bad luck anymore. After taking a throw-in short and receiving the ball back, left-back Bojan Jokic was given too much space, as he was permitted to whip in a near post cross. Chievo captain Luca Rigoni found himself totally unmarked from eight yards out, nodding the ball past the helpless Handanovic, as Inter's defensive frailties reared their head once more.
Esteban Cambiasso almost put the home side back ahead minutes later, as the Argentine drove powerfully through the heart of the Chievo defence, forcing Puggioni to race out and meet him, diverting the ball wide excellently with his outstretched foot.
Inter did indeed manage to poke themselves back in front from the resulting corner, though. Cassano whipped in a great delivery once more, and Ranocchia rose highest giving the keeper no chance, heading the ball into Puggioni's top right-hand corner. The 24-year-old wheeled away in celebration, perhaps follow realisation that he may have just made up for his earlier error.
Gargano went close in quick succession, the latter from a free-kick on 37 minutes, as Chievo conceded a free-kick due to handball 25 yards from goal. The Inter midfielder lifted the ball over the wall and sweetly struck the inside of the post, with no teammates in black and blue stripes available to turn the rebound home.
After a sparkling first 45 minutes, everything seemed set in place for Inter to match into the European qualification places at half time. Offense reigned, opportunities flowed, as the defensive side of the game was willingly neglected.
Merely five minutes after the restart, Diego Milito thumped Inter's third into the back of the net. Cambiasso broke down the right, before picking out Milito with a great pass. The Argentine swivelled elegantly from eight yards out, before thrashing the ball into the bottom corner with his first opportunity of the game. Nagatomo and Cambiasso were denied moments later, but Puggioni was at his best to deny Inter.
After the frantic first half, chances became few and far between after Inter's third goal. Both sides traded half chances, with the best falling to Chievo, as Jokic continued to deliver quality balls into the box from the left.
Puggioni made a breathtaking double save on 70 minutes, as the Chievo defence was totally unlocked by a clever flick by substitute Ricky Alvarez. Nagatomo got onto the end of the inventive ball, but the Chievo keeper was quick off his line to make a block. The ball shot off the turf, finding itself at the feet of Rodrigo Palacio, but the Italian shot-stopper was back on his feet quickly to beat away the Argentine's effort too.
Without the heroics of Puggioni, Inter fans may have left the stadium having watched their side dispatch six goals past their opponents, but the Chievo stopper was in top form to keep his side in the game throughout.
Stramaccioni's men leave San Siro with their morale sky-high, as the mercilessly put Chievo to the sword, and with the full-time return of Dejan Stankovic and Diego Milito in the offing after injury, the Nerazzurri seem poised to push on in Serie A.