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Inter hold Juve to hand Roma title boost

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MILAN, Italy, January 7 – Inter Milan showed encouraging signs on new-signing Lukas Podolski’s debut as they battled to a 1-1 draw at champions Juventus to hand Roma a welcome Serie A title boost.

Roma had Davide Astori’s controversial first-half goal to thank for a 1-0 win away to Udinese earlier in the day.

Rudi Garcia’s men are now only a point behind the leaders, who had to settle for share of the spoils in Turin after Mauro Icardi struck in the second half to level Carlos Tevez’s fifth-minute opener.

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri lamented his side’s second-half performance, and admitted Roma would remain a threat throughout the campaign.

“I think the first half was one of our best performances of the season,” Allegri told Sky Sport.

“It’s not the first time Roma have been only a point behind us, so winning was important, but there are still a lot of points to collect. Roma will be pushing us all the way.”

Juventus started their first official game of the year looking to make amends for their Italian Super Cup defeat to Napoli in December.

And the hosts made a blistering start, Tevez bundling Arturo Vidal’s inviting ball past Samir Handanovic to take his league-leading tally to 11 for the season.

Podolski made his debut for Inter 10 minutes after the restart, replacing Zdravko Kuzmanovic, and his arrival sparked an Inter revival.

Inter levelled on 64 minutes as Icardi was somehow allowed to collect Fredy Guarin’s long ball from midfield and then held off Leanardo Bonucci to slip the ball under the onrushing Gianluigi Buffon.

It was the Argentinian’s fifth goal in four league games against Juventus.

Juventus came close twice in succession to restoring their advantage through Andrea Pirlo’s swerving free kick then Paul Pogba’s header which trickled wide of the upright from a corner.

But Icardi then narrowly missed the target after sliding in to meet Podolski’s drive across the face of goal and then forced Buffon to block his well-struck drive.

Mateo Kovacic saw red in the final minutes for a studs-up challenge on Stephan Lichsteiner, but Juve failed to capitalise as Inter held on for a precious point that moved Roberto Mancini’s men up one place to 11th.

Mancini said he was “not satisfied” but insisted Inter would claw back their eight-point deficit to third place, and Champions League qualification.

“Juve dominated us all too easily in the first half before we finally got back into our stride and even created chances to score our second goal,” Mancini told Sky.

“There are still 20 games left and I think we can claw back our eight-point deficit. The biggest concern is having to improve this team as quickly as possible.”

– Roma protests –

Earlier, Roma coach Rudi Garcia defended Astori’s goal after the defender’s header from Francesco Totti’s free-kick came off the underside of Orestis Karnezis’s crossbar and bounced over the keeper’s goalline.

The goal appeared to be initially ruled out by the goalline official but, following protests by Roma, was validated by the referee.

Garcia admitted that the use of goalline technology would “end any doubts” but added: “At the end of the day the match referee is the one who decides, he was quite well placed to see the ball go over.”

However Udinese coach Andrea Stramaccioni hit out: “My biggest complaint is about the goalline referees. It’s got nothing to do with the score.

“Roma won and we accept the scoreline. But if the goalline officials, who are put there to rule on borderline goals, are simply ignored by the referee then what is the point of them being there?”

Elsewhere, Gonzalo Higuain struck his eighth and ninth goals of the campaign in a 4-1 win for Napoli over Cesean to leave Rafael Benitez’s men level on points with Lazio in the third and final Champions League qualifying spot.

AC Milan’s European ambitions stalled after a shock 2-1 home defeat to Sassuolo left Filippo Inzaghi’s men seventh but five points behind Lazio and Napoli.

Gianfranco Zola’s Serie A coaching debut at former club Cagliari, meanwhile, ended in a painful 5-0 rout at Palermo, whose sixth win of the campaign moved them up to eighth place.

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