MILAN - Inter beat Cesena 3-2 in the rescheduled Serie A 2010/11 Week 16 match played at the stadio Meazza this evening to maintain their perfect record under Leonardo.
Two quick-fire goals in as many minutes from Eto'o and Milito put Inter firmly in control after just 15 minutes but the Prince had to leave the pitch five minutes later with a muscle complaint, Biabiany coming on to replace him. Strikes from Bogdani and Giaccherini brought Cesena level within six minutes to give the away side hope, but Chivu headed Inter back in front seconds before the first-half whistle. Cesena were reduced to 10 men in the 74th minute when Giaccherini picked up his second booking.
FIRST HALF - With Thiago Motta unavailable, Leonardo opted to start with Pandev in the hole behind Milito and Eto'o. The club decided not to risk playing Ranocchia, with doubts still unresolved about whether the defender was eligible to feature in a game that qualified as a Week 16 match, considering that he was a Genoa player when the other Week 16 games were played ("We haven't been told we can't play him but we haven't been told clearly that we can either," explained technical director Branca). That meant Materazzi was handed a first start since the Milan derby in November. Cesena fielded a three-pronged attack of Jimenez, Bogdani and Giaccherini.
Parolo had an early sight on goal after just three minutes but his right-footed drive went wide. Shortly afterwards a late challenge by Lauro gave the Nerazzurri a freekick from which Cambiasso found himself one-on-one with Antonioli - the Cesena keeper was quicker to react though. On 13 minutes Lucio made his way as far forward as the opposition's box before laying off for Maicon, whose cross-shot forced Antonioli to make a high catch at the near post. A minute later Eto'o showed once more just how lethal he is at the moment: after playing a one-two with Milito, the Cameroonian made some space for himself and angled a shot into the far corner leaving the keeper with no chance. Before you could catch your breath Inter had scored a second, with Eto'o again at the heart of it, this time shaking off two defenders and threading a delightful ball through for Pandev. The Macedonian's low cross was met by Prince Milito in the centre of the box and the Argentinian made no mistake in putting Inter 2-0 up. However, just five minutes after his goal Milito was forced off with a muscle problem and Biabiany came on to replace him.
Bogdani pulled one back for Cesena in the 23rd minute, when he took a cross down on his chest and struck a powerful effort beyond Castellazzi and into the bottom corner. Then, just as Inter had done, Cesena followed up their first goal with an immediate second. Ex-Inter player Jimenez was the orchestrator, chipping a perfectly weighted ball in behind the Inter back line for Giaccherini to latch onto and volley beneath Castellazzi. 2-2 and back to square one. Lucio had a chance to restore Inter's lead on 33 minutes when he met Biabiany's cross from the right with a flying header but his effort went wide. The Frenchman created another chance on 39 minutes when he fed Pandev, who was brought down on the edge of the box. Stankovic's freekick came off the wall and Cambiasso headed goalwards but his effort wasn't powerful enough to trouble Antonioli. The tempo was showing no signs of slowing down and Inter had their best chance yet to get their noses back in front just a minute later, when Chivu chipped the keeper but was denied by Collucci on the line. Nonetheless, the Romanian did succeed in restoring Inter's lead in first-half injury time, rising well to head home Maicon's inch-perfect cross.
SECOND HALF - The second half got underway with no changes made and Eto'o was soon causing havoc again with a series of initiatives. In the 56th minute he surged down the right and Benalouane just managed to contain him. Four minutes later he fired in a shot from the edge of the box which failed to hit the target, then on 66 minutes he went about as close as you can, his thunderous strike cannoning back off the crossbar after he had connected with Cambiasso's low ball. Maicon, who clocked up miles and miles down the flank this evening, had a good chance after linking up with Pandev but hit his shot too close to Antonioli. Cesena were reduced to ten men in the 74th minute after Giaccherini was shown his second yellow card of the evening (the first for diving and the second for shooting at goal after the whistle had gone). With a quarter of an hour to play, Leonardo decided to shake things up and brought on Joel Obi for Biabiany. Cesena refused to lie down, though, and twice threatened through Budan: his first chance came from a rebound - with the inadvertent help of Chivu - but Castellazzi was on hand to save; then, after being played in by Parolo, he hit the side netting. Cordoba was brought on to replace Pandev and strengthen the rear guard with five minutes remaining.
After three minutes of added time the Week 16 game between Inter and Cesena came to an end. Inter now sit on 35 points, just 6 behind league leaders AC Milan and with a game in hand.
Inter 3-2 Cesena (HT: 3-2)
Scorers: 14 Eto'o, 15 Milito, 23 Bogdani, 29 Giaccherini, 45+1 Chivu.
Inter: 12 Castellazzi; 13 Maicon, 6 Lucio, 23 Materazzi, 26 Chivu; 4 Zanetti, 19 Cambiasso, 5 Stankovic; 27 Pandev (85th 2 Cordoba); 22 Milito (20th 88 Biabiany - 75th 20 Obi), 9 Eto'o.
Unused subs: 21 Orlandoni, 11 Muntari, 17 Mariga, 39 Santon.
Cesena: 1 Antonioli; 77 Ceccarelli,, 25 Von Bergen, 6 Lauro (64th 29 Dellafiore); 18 Parolo, 14 Colucci, 24 Sammarco (69th 8 Caserta); 10 Jimenez (78th 11 Budan), 70 Bogdani, 23 Giaccherini.
Unused subs: 33 Calderoni, 3 Pellegrino, 4 Appiah, 17 Malonga.
Coach: Massimo Ficcadenti.
Referee: Nicola Russo (Nola).
Yellow cards: 36 Materazzi, 46 and 74 Giaccherini, 86 Benalouane.
Red card: 74 Giaccherini.
Added time: 1+3 minutes.