Inter, Napoli play out pulsating draw
Inter Milan spurned the chance to claim a third consecutive win for the first time this season after a pulsating scoreless draw at home to Napoli as both sides cemented their respective qualifying places for Europe next season.
With Walter Mazzarri's side facing his old club and Napoli coach Rafael Benitez returning to the San Siro for the first time since leaving Inter in December 2010, the stage was set for an explosive encounter.
This particular San Siro fixture had not finished in a draw since February 1994 and since then Inter had won nine against two for Napoli.
But despite an open and lively game in Milan, where Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain was stretchered off injured in the dying minutes, neither side was able to break the deadlock.
Napoli remained third, 21 points behind Juventus ahead of the Serie A leaders' visit to Sassuolo on Monday, but are still eight points ahead of Fiorentina and firmly in contention for the third Champions League qualifying place.
"We played to win, but in the end the draw was a fair result," Benitez told Sky Sport.
The Spaniard said Higuain, who is set to undergo tests in the coming days, could be ruled out of the Italian Cup final against Fiorentina next weekend.
Higuain was stretchered off after appearing to hurt his right calf following a fair challenge by Marco Andreolli. The Argentinian was replaced by Goran Pandev.
"We still don't know if he'll be ruled out. We have to wait for the results," added Benitez.
Inter, who missed out on Europe altogether this season, remain fifth and have a six-point lead over fellow Europa League chasers Parma ahead of their visit to Cagliari on Sunday.
But Mazzarri ultimately lamented what was his side's 15th draw of the campaign.
"We've had far too many draws and thrown away too many points. It's been a strange season," said Mazzarri, who had led Napoli to the runner-up spot last season.
- Inter thwarted -
Inter dominated the early exchanges but were thwarted on each occasion.
Napli 'keeper Pepe Reina foiled Hernanes from long-range and then Mateo Kovacic from inside the box early on.
Napoli's first chance fell to Jose Callejon, who ran on to a Dries Mertens cross but somehow sent his volley wide with only Samir Handanovic to beat.
After Inter striker Rodrigo Palacio fired across the face of goal, Callejon spurned another chance when opting to deliver to Higuain rather than go for goal himself.
Inter's claims for a penalty were waved away after Palacio tumbled under a challenge from Miguel Britos and from the resulting free kick the Argentinian's shot straight at Reina.
Both Napoli and Inter spurned great chances to break the deadlock in the opening seven minutes of the restart.
First, Higuain's close range shot was blocked by Yuto Nagatomo, with Handanovic coming to the resuce to fingertip Mertens's effort to safety.
Inter broke on the counter but Palacio sent a glancing header from Nagatomo's cross just wide of Reina's far post.
In the final quarter hour Higuain turned his marker on the edge of the box to create a scoring chance but fired over with his left foot from 10 metres out.
Inter striker Mauro Icardi had scored four goals in his last three league games but the Argentinian was replaced with Zdravko Kuzmanovic, and had a heated exchange with Mazzarri as he left the pitch.
With less than 10 minutes remaining Nagatomo had space on the left but his delivery for Palacio was blocked.
At the other end Gokhan Inler spurned an even better chance when he ran on to Marek Hamsik's low cross and rounded two defenders only to see his low strike rebound off Handanovic's upright.
Earlier, Fiorentina virtually secured their place in next season's Europa League by tightening their grip on fourth spot thanks to a 3-0 win at Bologna, who remain in danger of relegation.
Juan Cuadrado opened the scoring at the Renato Dall'Ara stadium in the 23rd minute and claimed his brace in the 87th minute, with Josip Ilicic scoring La Viola's second just after the half hour.