The Internazionale cruise

The New Year in Italy came around with the certainty of two things: the Italian government would not see out the end of the month and Inter would continue their record-breaking romp to retain lo scudetto.

Well, one out of two isn’t bad. No one ever had any confidence in poor old Prime Minister Romano Prodi anyway but who would have expected the runaway leaders to start looking a little off colour?

OK, it isn’t as if there's a full-blown crisis looming with the champions but after a 13-game winning streak even a hint of a dip has the peninsula clutching at the proverbial straws.

That glimmer of hope almost became something more tangible on Sunday when plucky Parma led 2-1 until the final moments at the San Siro before Fernando Couto’s hand got in the way of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal-bound shot, and after dispatching the penalty the Swede then restored the old order with the winner deep into injury time.

You could almost hear the deflating sighs of resignation up and down the country. If only the Nerazzurri had blown it against one of the minnows then maybe, just maybe, the title race would actually be a race rather than a stately procession.

But it didn’t happen and coach Roberto Mancini’s merry band look just about sorted for their third straight title – OK, Juventus followers, the second won on the pitch.

After all, they have already played all the difficult away games, apart from Udinese on Sunday, coming through them unscathed.

And not just that. Mancini put out the reserves against Juve in the Italian Cup on Wednesday, had central defender Nicolas Burdisso sent off after eight minutes, went two goals up, lost their lynchpin at the back Marco Materazzi to injury and with Esteban Cambiasso filling in at the heart of the defence, still managed to draw 2-2.

Just imagine if they'd won! Still, with half the season still to go they'll probably hit a slippery patch somewhere down the line. The only problem is, with Juve having already seemingly thrown in the towel, will Roma – the only side coming close to staying with the gruelling pace so far – be within touching distance to grab any advantage?

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