Updated: Sunday, 02 March 2014 06:28 | By Agence France-Presse

Inter deliver blow to Roma title hopes

Misfiring Roma's championship hopes suffered a blow after Inter Milan held the Serie A title challengers to a scoreless draw at a half-empty Olympic Stadium on Saturday.


Inter deliver blow to Roma title hopes

AS Roma's midfielder Radja Nainggolan runs with the ball during an Italian Serie A football match against Inter Milan on March 1, 2014, at Rome's Olympic stadium - by Andreas Solaro

Inter travelled to the capital looking to bounce back from a 1-1 draw with struggling Cagliari at home last week which left them fifth and 11 points off the Champions League places.

The statistics were firmly against Walter Mazzarri's side, who had won only one of their past 10 league games against Roma and taken home just a point from their past four visits to the Olympic Stadium.

But despite Roma shading a largely insipid encounter, helped little by a partial stadium ban which led to both ends of the 'Olimpico' being closed to home fans, Rudi Garcia's men failed to snatch the win that would have put pressure on Juventus ahead of their trip to Milan on Sunday.

Roma now trail Juventus by eight points but still have a game in hand.

However after a game featuring punches from Daniele de Rossi and Juan Jesus that went unpunished by match officials, Garcia refused to criticise his players.

"I think it's a fair result. Inter played well, especially in first 30 mins of the first half," the Frenchman told Sky Sport Italia.

"But when you can't win, the next most important thing is not to lose."

Asked about the title race, Garcia added: "It's too early to say. Nothing's been decided yet."

Inter did well to take a share of the spoils, although the Serie A draw kings, who top the league with 11 draws, will slip to sixth if Verona account for Bologna at home on Sunday.

"We had a great first half, I'm happy with the lads' performances. All that was missing was a goal," said Mazzarri.

Roma, still missing captain Francesco Totti and defender Maicon, kept Samir Handanovic in the Inter net busy in an enterprising opening period.

But the hosts, who started with influential forward Miralem Pjanic on the bench due to a recent knee knock, lacked their usual spark and only really threatened after the Bosnian replaced Adem Ljajic just before the hour.

Mauro Icardi had calls for a penalty waved away after tangling with Mehdi Benatia as he volleyed wide and Inter threatened again but Rodrigo Palacio sent a looping header over from Ricky Alvarez's cross.

Roma finally had the ball in the net just after the half hour when Mattia Destro bundled the ball off Handanovic following Radja Nainggolan's diving header, only to be ruled offside.

At the other end Alessio Romagnoli did well to block Jonathan with a sliding tackle as he teed up an angled drive yards from goal.

- Ambitious strike -

Brazilian midfielder Hernanes, signed last month from Lazio, came off the bench for Alvarez just after the hour.

Roma's first sniff at goal after the interval did not come until halfway through when Gervinho sent his first-timer from Vasileios Torosidis' weighted cross wide while under pressure from Rolando.

Nainggolan should have done better with an ambitious strike from outside the area after a promising build-up but Roma appeared to inch closer when a low drive from Pjanic forced Handanovic to parry on 75 minutes.

From the corner, the Bosnian's glancing header went well wide of the Slovenian's post.

Roma were finding more space and Nainggolan tested Handanovic with another long-range strike that inched just wide.

With 10 minutes remaining Garcia replaced Destro with Michel Bastos but as the clock ticked down tempers frayed.

Following a corner Romagnoli tumbled after tangling with Juan Jesus, with television pictures appearing to show the Roma defender suffering a punch in the ribs by the Brazilian.

Earlier in the game, however, Icardi looked to have suffered the same treatment when he took a punch from de Rossi.

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