Juventus beats Inter to expand lead
Juventus overcame the first major obstacle on the last leg of its Serie A title defense by edging out 10-man Inter Milan 2-1 in Saturday's Derby d'Italia.
League leader Juve was also eager to avenge November's 3-1 home defeat to the Nerazzurri that saw its unbeaten run ended one game shy of 50, and Fabio Quagliarella drew first blood within minutes.
Inter dominated for long spells but, despite Rodrigo Palacio's second half equalizer, Inter could not break down a resilient Bianconeri defense after Alessandro Matri found a winner 30 minutes from time.
Juve, however, has a 12-point lead at the top ahead of second-placed Napoli's trip to Torino Saturday night and this week's Champions League quarterfinal meeting with Bayern Munich.
There was never any danger of this becoming a run-of-the-mill game, but Quagliarella ensured it would be a riveting contest inside three minutes.
The Neapolitan striker shaped to shoot from outside Samir Handanovic's area and his superb curling effort sailed over the Inter keeper's head to nestle in the net.
The Italy keeper then found himself pulling off a stunning parry on Rodrigo Palacio's header as Inter pressed on.
Matri was flagged for offside as Juve grew back into the game before Arturo Vidal fluffed a chance to make it 2-0 when one-on-one with Handanovic.
It was the Bianconeri backline that would preserve its side's lead toward the break, however, with Andrea Barzagli sweeping the ball off Cassano's feet before closing down a rampant Palacio.
Andrea Pirlo's improvised curler was contained by Handanovic and, with Buffon snaffling a Palacio header in the 44th minute, it was still game on heading into the interval.
So it proved in the 54th minute as Palacio squeezed through a sleepy Juve defense to level.
That state of affairs did not suit the champions, however, and they wasted no time in wresting back control of the tie.
Having scored the first, Quagliarella was heavily involved in the second as he beat Andrea Ranocchia to cut the ball back to Matri, who clipped a measured right-footed shot beyond Handanovic's reach.
The outcome might have been very different had referee Nicola Rizzoli had awarded either of two strong penalty calls for Inter around the 70-minute mark.
First, Palacio went to ground after contact with Barzagli. Cassano then appealed in vain after clashing bodies with Giorgio Chiellini.
The late introduction of Giovinco for Quagliarella was designed to produce one final goal for Juve and, although he did not score, he played a vital role in securing the result.
He had been on the pitch for 10 minutes when Cambiasso saw red for an overzealous challenge on the diminutive striker, leaving Inter a man short and thwarting its late bid to force an equalizer.