Inter back on track after Stankovic hat-trick

ROME, Nov 28, 2010 (AFP) - A hat-trick by Inter Milan's veteran Serbian midfielder Dejan Stankovic saw the champions to a welcome 5-2 victory over Parma on Sunday and ended a run of four Serie A matches without a win.

Inter had given Rafael Benitez some breathing space by squeezing through to the last 16 of the Champions League in mid-week when, had they been defeated by Dutch side Twente, many believed the Spanish coach would have been sacked.

Parma's Swiss midfielder Blerim Dzemaili (L) challenges Inter Milan's Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder during the Serie A football match between Inter Milan and Parma on November 28, 2010 . AFP

However, Stankovic's treble and goals from Argentinian Esteban Cambiasso - who had scored the only goal against Twente - and Thiago Motta saw them to the three points against Parma, for whom veteran Hernan Crespo bagged a brace.

"It was a crazy match and we showed that we were a bit crazier," joked Benitez. "The team played very well and proved its character. I'm happy.

"We still believe in the title. The season is still long."

Inter are still seven points adrift of bitter city rivals and league leaders AC Milan, who drew 1-1 at Sampdoria on Saturday.

Former leaders Lazio could have moved to within a point of Milan with victory at home to Catania, but they were held to a 1-1 draw.

Matias Silvestre gave the visitors the lead in the 44th minute, but Lazio's Brazilian summer signing Hernanes levelled within a minute as the Rome club extended their lead over third-placed Juventus to three points.

A superb late free-kick from substitute Simone Pepe had earned Juventus a 1-1 draw at home to Fiorentina on Saturday, keeping Juve ahead of Napoli on goal difference.

In the late game, Roma missed a chance to go third after they lost for the first time in eight games, 3-1 at Palermo, who leapfrogged them into sixth place on 23 points - one ahead of the capital club and more notably level on points with Inter.

Francesco Totti netted a last-gasp consolation as Palermo took the points with Fabrizio Miccoli on target in the opening period and further goals from Josip Ilicic and Antonio Nocerino.

Also Sunday, Italy international striker Antonio di Natale claimed a hat-trick as improving Udinese inflicted a 3-1 on defeat on Napoli.

Brescia drew 0-0 with Genoa, Cagliari saw off a late fightback to win 3-2 at home to second-bottom Lecce and bottom side Bari drew 1-1 at home to fellow relegation candidates Cesena.

Former Inter star Crespo gave Parma a fourth-minute lead but Inter levelled and then went ahead through two deflected shots from 32-year-old Stankovic, both of which were set up by Frenchman Jonathan Biabiany.

Cambiasso scored the third from a corner before his compatriot Crespo reduced the deficit following a poor clearance by Italian central defender Marco Materazzi, who is deputising for long-term injury victim Walter Samuel.

Motta and Stankovic rammed home Inter's superiority with further goals in the second half to leave Parma just four points above the drop zone.

Looking ahead to his side's forthcoming matches, Benitez called on Inter to build on their momentum.

"Now, Lazio (in the league next Friday), Werder Bremen (in the Champions League on December 7) and the Club World Cup (on December 15-18). This match against Parma needs to be our springboard."

The match between Bologna and Chievo was postponed by referee Marco Guida after heavy snowfall in Bologna, with a decision on when the match will now be played yet to be taken.

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