Benitez on brink as Eto'o escapes headbutt rap

ROME, Nov 21, 2010 (AFP) - Inter Milan coach Rafael Benitez is teetering on the brink of being sacked after his Italian champions crashed 2-1 at Chievo to drop to sixth and nine points off leaders and city rivals AC Milan.

And to make matters worse he could lose star forward Samuel Eto'o to a suspension after the Cameroon captain's blatant headbutt into Chievo centre-back Bostjan Cesar's chest for which he was fortunate to stay on the pitch.

Chievo's Slovenian defender Bostjan Cesar (L, down) lays on the ground after arguing with Inter Milan's Cameroonian forward Samuel Eto'o (3rd R) during their seria A match on November 21, 2010 in Stadio Olimpico in Verona. AFP

On 36 minutes Cesar was punished for a clash with Eto'o, who picked himself up, ran over to the defender and headbutted him in the chest.

TV replays showed Eto'o glancing over at Gianluca Rocchi before the headbutt, while another angle suggested the referee may have seen what took place.

Eto'o did not receive any punishment at all, although if the incident is reported he would certainly face a two or three game ban from Football League chiefs.

And that will dismay Benitez who was already without the likes of Diego Milito, Walter Samuel, Thiago Motta, Maicon, Julio Cesar and Coutinho for this match.

However, the Spaniard may not be in the job long enough to suffer the fallout should Eto'o be banned if Italian press reports are to be believed as they claim anything other than a win against FC Twente in the Champions League on Wednesday will signal the end of his brief Inter tenure.

Benitez defended his team's performance and also claimed that Cesar should have been punished for his initial challenge on Eto'o.

"It's clear that after a defeat no-one is happy, the only thing I can say is that we worked very hard today and our reaction in the second half on a terrible pitch showed great character," he said.

"I can't say anything against my team, the work ethic and attitude is there.

"We showed character, attacked all the time, took risks and if we'd have scored (at 1-0) that would have changed everything.

"(Eto'o) was punched and his reaction is one of a team needing to win, of course it's not nice to see.

"But there's four officials at the game and if they don't think it deserves punishment then that's it. Obviously he lost control a bit."

Things could have been so different had Goran Pandev taken an early chance on 13 minutes.

Played in by Eto'o the Macedonia forward rounded goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino but from a tight angle he shot against the post.

Inter were made to pay on 29 minutes as Sergio Pellissier rose above a static Davide Santon to send a bullet header from Nicolas Frey's cross into the top corner.

Pellissier could have had a hat-trick by half-time but having twice got in behind the Inter defence, his first shot was deflected just past the post by Lucio, while the Brazilian defender put him under enough pressure to scuff his second effort wide.

In the second half it was again Chievo who came closer as Dejan Stankovic had to whip the ball off Luca Rigoni's foot to deny a certain goal.

Although Sorrentino made great saves from Stankovic and Eto'o, Chievo's Gelson Fernandes should have made it two but dragged his shot wide of the far post with a grounded Luca Castellazzi helpless to intervene.

But Chievo secured a thoroughly deserved three points eight minutes from time as substitute Davide Moscardelli timed his run into the box perfectly to prod home Rigoni's cross from close range.

Eto'o scored a brilliant individual goal deep into injury time after a mazy solo run but it was too little too late.

Earlier in the day Serbia international Milos Krasic scored a stunning individual goal to keep Juventus in the scudetto race as they won 2-0 at Genoa, whose goalkeeper Eduardo scored an unfortunate own goal while the hosts twice hit the bar.

Juve took their unbeaten league run to nine games and remain six points off leaders Milan, who beat Fiorentina 1-0 on Saturday, while they have not lost in any competition since September.

Second-placed Lazio dropped to three points off Milan as they were held 1-1 at Parma.

But third-placed Napoli stayed in the hunt as they thumped Bologna 4-1 thanks to a brace from Marek Hamsik.

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