Balotelli nets winner on Pandev's debut as Nerazzurri go 11 clear at top and become winter champions

VERONA - Mario Balotelli struck in the 12th minute as Inter saw off Chievo in the first Serie A fixture of 2010 to become winter champions. Wednesday lunchtime's victory at the Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi stretches our lead at the top to eleven points ahead of the rest of Wednesday's Week 18 fixtures.

With Cambiasso, Krhin, Muntari, Stankovic and Thiago Motta ruled out of the Verona trip, José Mourinho solved his midfield crisis with Pandev, Sneijder and Balotelli in support of solitary striker Milito, and Zanetti alongside Vieira in front of the defence.

On his debut, Goran Pandev had a hand in match-winning goal when he served Sneijder on the edge of the area. The Dutchman played into the path of the unmarked Balotelli, who saw his first shot saved by Sorrentino before finding the net with an angled follow-up that Yepes failed to keep from crossing the line.

Maicon forced Sorrentino into a tipped save and Patrick Vieira - on his 100th appearance in Serie A - crashed a long-range shot over the bar as Inter produced chances to add to their lead.

Bentivoglio had a low effort blocked by Julio Cesar as the Flying Donkeys looked for a half-time leveller, but Inter hit back again when Cristian Chivu danced past three before seeing his shot deflected.

The solo move was Chivu's last slice of the action as a clash of heads with Pellissier saw the Romania captain stretchered off three minutes after the interval. He was replaced by Materazzi, with the excellent Ivan Cordoba switching to left-back. 

There were more yellow cards than shots on goal in a scrappy second half, Chievo substitute Abbruscato missing a glorious chance to equalise when he stabbed wide from close range after latching on to Luciano's deflected cross; Julio Cesar making comfortable saves from Luciano and Marcolini; and Sneijder seeing a long-range curling shot stopped by Sorrentino.

Showing inevitable signs of tiredness, Pandev was substituted by Quaresma in the 67th minute. Mourinho made his final substitution two minutes from time, replacing Balotelli with Marko Arnautovic to hand the Austrian forward his competitive debut.

Chievo 0-1 Inter (HT: 0-1)

Scorer: Balotelli 12.

Chievo: 28 Sorrentino; 20 Sardo, 5 Mandelli, 33 Yepes, 4 Mantovani; 10 Luciano (11 Granoche 85), 16 Rigoni, 7 Marcolini; 9 Bentivoglio (6 Pinzi 60); 23 Bogdani (22 Abbruscato 60), 31 Pellissier.
Subs not used: 18 Squizzi, 2 Morero, 19 Ariatti, 21 Frey.
Coach: Nicola Pierpaoli.

Inter: 12 Julio Cesar; 13 Maicon, 6 Lucio, 2 Cordoba, 26 Chivu (23 Materazzi 48); 14 Vieira, 4 Zanetti; 45 Balotelli (89 Arnautovic 88), 10 Sneijder, 27 Pandev (7 Quaresma 67); 22 Milito. 

Subs not used
: 1 Toldo, 28 Stevanovic, 29 Donati, 48 Crisetig. 

: José Mourinho.

Referee: Nicola Pierpaoli (Florence).

Booked: Chivu 5, Balotelli 34, Vieira 40, Sardo 59, Marcolini 63, Cordoba 69, Pellissier 75, Quaresma 77, Maicon 45+3.

Att.: 25,579.

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