The weekend’s games saw Milan crowned “Winter Champions” with a hard-fought victory over Piacenza, establishing a three-point lead at the head of Serie A.
Fierce rivals Inter – previously placed second – were stunned with a 4-1 loss away to Perugia. This heavy defeat allowed Lazio to overtake them in the table.
Milan, perhaps mindful of the fact eleven of the past eighteen “Winter Champions” have gone on to win the Scudetto, started brightly against lowly Piacenza. They could and should have been ahead inside twenty minutes, but Filippo Inzaghi was denied his ninth league goal of the campaign by a pooroffside decision.
With the match still goalless at half-time, Piacenza were encouraged to push forward in search of an unlikely win. Their newfound confidence paid off when Belarus defender Gurenko found space at the far post to volley the visitors ahead on 53 minutes.
Their joy was short-lived however. Inzaghi, lively all match in what is proving his finest season to date, raced into the box less than a minute later, drew a foul from Maresca, and won Milan a penalty. Pirlo duly converted with his seventh goal of the season.
The game was won for Milan withtwenty minutes left when Pirlo surged forward, drawing the Piacenza defence out. Rivaldo found space and was able to rifle home from the edge of the area to cap a good individual performance.
Meanwhile Inter fell apart to mid-table Perugia and lost important ground in the title race.
They were behind as early as the eighth minute: Cordoba was penalised for handball – replays proved inconclusive if this was correct – and Ze Maria slotted home the penalty.
Greek forward Vryzas doubled their lead on 32 minutes with his first of the season. He later admitted to handling the ball: “I had the sun in my face and I have not seen the ball very well, I wanted to header the ball but I have hit it with my hand.”
Five minutes into the second half the game was beyond Inter as Fusani snatched Perugia a third. Vryzas then claimed his second of the match before Vieri struck a late penalty thatdid little to console the travelling supporters.
Lazio moved into second, level on points with Inter but with a better goal difference. The Biancoceleste beat Udinese 2-1 at home, with first-half goals from speedy Argentine Claudio Lopez and playmaker Stefano Fiore, the latter cancelling out Lazio fan Roberto Muzzi’s equalizer.
Elsewhere bottom sides Torino and Como fought out a lacklustre goalless draw that sees them fall away from the rest of the pack. Atalanta moved out of the relegation zone with a 2-1 win against Roma, with Doni and Totti among the scorers.