MILAN, Italy (AFP) – Zlatan Ibrahimovic came back to haunt his former employers and silence the boo-boys as 10-man AC Milan went back to the top of the table with a 1-0 win at Inter Milan on Sunday.
Ibrahimovic scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot to enrage the Inter fans who once adored him as Milan earned a crucial three points, despite Ignazio Abate's second half dismissal, to underline their title credentials.
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates his goa. AC Milan defeated Inter Milan 1-0. AFP|
Earlier in the day Lazio had briefly gone top as they beat Napoli 2-0 in Rome.
The defeat means Inter dropped to fifth in Serie A, six points behind their arch city rivals but Ibrahimovic insisted there's a long way to go yet.
"There's still a lot of games left, it's a bit of a gap but we'll play one game at a time," said the Swede.
"The team is in good shape, we're focussed.
"We worked really hard and there was great sacrifice in the second half with a man down. We played with heart."
Milan set their stall out from the off with some vibrant counter-attacking football.
On three minutes Abate got to the byline down the right and crossed for Clarence Seedorf, who should have done far better than head wastefully high.
But just moments later they had won a penalty as Seedorf released Ibrahimovic down the right and as he entered the area he dragged back the ball, only for Marco Materazzi to take his legs out from under him.
Ibrahimovic stepped up amid a cacophony of boos to smash home the spot-kick.
Milan really should have had another as Ibrahimovic again beat the offside trap but his cross to the waiting Mathieu Flamini was imprecise and cut out by a back-tracking Lucio.
Materazzi then took the ball away from Seedorf as Ibrahimovic tried to tee him up from close in.
Massimo Ambrosini hit a diagonal ball over the top to the busy Sweden forward who tried a Marco van Basten-esque volley from an angle that fizzed just over.
Robinho had the ball in the net on 22 minutes but was denied by a linesman's flag.
Inter didn't start exerting pressure until the end of the half when Wesley Sneijder shot a free-kick into the side netting.
Early in the second period Sneijder had another free-kick from close in and although he struck it well, Christian Abbiati beat it away with his fists.
And momentum swung Inter's way on the hour mark when Abate picked up a second booking after a tiff with Goran Pandev, with Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri immediately replacing forward Robinho with full-back Luca Antonini.
Centre-back Materazzi then had to come off after a nasty clash with Ibrahimovic and Inter coach Rafael Benitez made the bold move of replacing him with winger Jonathan Biabiany.
Yet it was Seedorf who was inches away from doubling Milan's lead with a shot from 20 yards.
Push as Inter did they created little of real substance as a dogged Milan held out for a famous win.
In Rome, Mauro Zarate was the hero as he scored the first and made the second for Sergio Floccari to end a run of two straight defeats.
Goalscorer Floccari said it was important to bounce back from their losses.
"It's been a tough three days and with the midweek loss that made it a bad week for us," he told SkySport.
"Today was a good performance in terms of intensity and creativity in attack, it's always good to score but it's better that we played well."
Zarate gave the hosts the lead on the quarter hour mark when he latched onto a ball launched forward by captain Stefano Mauri and from the inside left channel the Argentine took the ball down on his chest and fired left-footed across Morgan De Sanctis.
Lazio doubled their advantage on 61 minutes as Zarate pounced on a ricochet and teed up Floccari, alone 15 yards out to side-foot home almost casually with De Sanctis strangely static.