Inter Milan twice came back from two-goal deficits against AS Roma to snatch a thrilling 3-3 draw at the San Siro and extend their lead at the top of Serie A to seven points.
Jose Mourinho’s team looked to be heading for more heartache following their footballing lesson by Manchester United in the Champions League in midweek as they trailed 2-0 and 3-1.
But a brace from teenager Mario Balotelli and a late equaliser from Hernan Crespo stole a share of the spoils and helped to maintain a sizeable gap to second-placed Juventus,who beat Napoli 1-0 on Saturday.
“That’s a golden point for us,” said Mourinho. “We lacked intensity and concentration following our Champions League efforts.
“At 3-1 down the match seemed over,even I thought it was. But the team’s character made the difference.”
Roma were the better team in the first period and on 23 minutes young full-back Marco otta cut in from the right and crossed left-footed into the box where Daniele De Rossi arrived late to out-jump Javier Zanetti and glance home a fine header.
Jon Arne Riise notched a second on 29 minutes after galloping down the left onto a David Pizarro through ball,sneaking in behind Maicon and squeaking the ball through Julio Cesar’s legs and in from a seemingly impossible angle.
Nicolas Burdisso had to make a last ditched challenge to deny Mirko Vucinic as Roma threatened to run riot in the first half.
But straight after the break Inter were given a lifeline as Adriano teed up Balotelli to beat Doni at his near post.
But Inter’s reprieve didn’t last long as Matteo Brighi ran through a gap in the home defence on 57 minutes before rifling home from outside the area.
Inter quickly pulled a goal back as Balotelli scored from the spot after the referee had given a penalty for a foul on the teenage forward.
That decision left Roma boss Luciano Spalletti livid.
“From the bench it seemed to me as if Balotelli dived,and the TV images confirm that. It’s obvious it wasn’t a penalty,” he said.
Inter kept plugging away and two veteran substitutes fashioned an equaliser as Luis Figo crossed for Crespo to nod home 11 minutes from time.
AC Milan crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Antonio Cassano-inspired Sampdoria as the heat on coach Carlo Ancelotti cranked up another notch.
Just three days after blowing a 2-0 lead at the San Siro and exiting the UEFA Cup at the hands of Werder Bremen,Sampdoria,and Cassano in particular,heaped further pressure on the under-fire Milan coach.
However,Ancelotti denied his team had an aging problem.
“This debate about the age of the players and the team being too old always comes out when things aren’t going well,” he said.
“We don’t forget that with these same players we won the Champions League (two years ago).”
With a top three finish needed to ensure direct entry into next season’s Champions League – Milan’s only realistic aim left this season – Ancelotti’s side needed to win but once again their defensive frailties were ruthlessly exposed.
On 18 minutes Daniele Bonera brought down Paolo Sammarco on the edge of the box and Cassano forced Christian Abbiati into a flying save from the free-kick.
But on 33 minutes Sampdoria were ahead as Andrea Raggi rose highest to meet Angelo Palombo’s corner and his header found Cassano unmarked at the back post.
The former Real Madrid forward directed his header on target and although Abbiati parried it,the ball somehow managed to squirm over the line.
Within six minutes of the restart the hosts had doubled their lead as Cassano played a sumptuous pass to Giampaolo Pazzini,who cut inside and slotted home from a tight angle.
Milan had plenty of the ball but created little in terms of clear cut chances until Pato planted a firm header into the bottom corner from substitute Favalli’s cross 10 minutes from time.
The visitors thought they had equalised moments later but Emerson’s header from Pirlo’s free-kick was ruled out for offside.
In other games Giuseppe Mascara scored the goal of the day with a volley from the halfway line in Catania’s 4-0 Sicilian derby victory over Palermo,for whom Australia midfielder Mark Bresciano was sent off after a quarter of an hour.