Inter's hopes of reaching next season's Champions League have taken a blow after they could only register a disappointing 0-0 draw with Serie A rivals Fiorentina at the Artemio Franchi on Sunday.
It could have been all so different though had Adem Ljajic scored from the penalty spot in the second half, but a rather tepid affair between these two teams was witnessed in Tuscay, although the Nerazzurri remain unbeaten under the stewardship of Andrea Stramaccioni, while the Viola move a point closer to survival.
However, the early signs suggested that an entertaining clash could have been on the cards. Inter lined up in a 4-2-3-1 system with Diego Forlan, Ricardo Alvarez and Mauro Zarate all showing an intent to support lone striker Diego Milito. For the hosts, Riccardo Montolivo was a surprise omission as Delio Rossi employed three at the back.
The first efforts on target were more speculative rather than substantial, but nevertheless noteworthy. Forlan tried to surprise Artur Boruc from distance with a curling drive, and Andrea Lazzarri attempted to catch Julio Cesar off his line from some way out, but both goalkeepers were equal.
It all seemed ominous for Fiorentina as Inter looked to dominate possession from the offset, but they remained patient and eventually broke back. Alessio Cerci returned to the side at the expense of the injured Stevan Jovetic, and his movement suddenly posed a problem for the Milanese side.
The former Roma forward swept past a striped shirt on more than one occasion, but his finishing left a lot to be desired as he wasted several promising openings, and both teams trudged into the dressing rooms for half time at equilibrium.
The second half coincided with the introduction of Wesley Sneijder soon after, but even he could not find the keys to unlock a stubborn Fiorentina defence. However, the players' endeavour could not be questioned, as the ball continued to ping about end-to-end.
Arguably, though, it was Fiorentina who were the more threatening of the two sides. Ljajic combined well with star performer Michele Camporese after the young defender had surged into the box, but he failed to truly test Cesar from close range.
But with 20 minutes remaining, the Viola were awarded a penalty. Lazzarri dashed past Cesar, but the Brazilian goalkeeper brought him down illegally, presenting the hosts with an invaluable opportunity to inflict serious damage on Inter.
Incredibly, Ljajic's spot kick was limp and Cesar barely had to dive to his right to parry the ball out for a corner, much to the chagrin of Delio Rossi, who responded by prompting bringing the one-time Manchester United target off.
Fiorentina carried on with their original game plan, and moments later Matija Nastasic blew a wonderful chance to make amends for his compatriot's penalty miss. A corner dropped to the centre-back in the box, but he looped his effort high over the bar.
Ranocchia was introduced to the match with 10 minutes left following an ankle knock contracted by the solid Cristian Chivu, and with three minutes of coming on, he almost conceded a penalty, although referee Paolo Valeri was not fooled by Cerci's antics.
Zarate, Milito and Sneijder tried their best to conjure up a winner with little time left, but their strikes were not threatening enough, while there were late calls for an Inter penalty from Esteban Cambiasso's shot. Nonetheless, they remain seventh, five points behind third place, as Fiorentina move to 15th.
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