| Second-half goals by Antonio Cassano, five minutes after coming on as a substitute for an injured Francesco Totti, and Damiano Tommasi secured full points for AS Roma at Rome’s Olympic Stadium Saturday, despite a late strike by Milan’s Jon Dahl Tomasson (seen in a duel with Walter Samuel). (AFP)
Rome: AC Milan’s Serie A title hopes were all but extinguished as AS Roma edged their out Italian Cup final opponents 2-1 here at the Olympic Stadium.
Antonio Cassano gave Roma the lead on the hour mark before Damiano Tommasi’s header doubled the home side’s advantage.
Danish striker Jon Dahl Tomasson, scorer of Milan’s winner in Wednesday’s 3-2 Champions League win over Ajax, grabbed a late consolation goal for the visitors, who crashed to their second consecutive defeat after losing to Empoli last week.
Milan, who clinched a place in the last four of the Champions League in midweek, remain third on the table on 55 points, nine adrift of leaders Juventus, who play their game in hand at home to Brescia on Sunday.
Should Milan qualify for the next season’s Champions League via their league position, AS Roma will go into the Uefa Cup, even if they lose the Cup to the ‘Rossoneri’.
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti blamed tired legs on his team’s lacklustre display. “For an hour we were in with a chance but they took the lead and from there it was an uphill task,” he said. “We paid for the effort we gave against Ajax.”
Asked if he had given up on the title, Ancelotti replied: “At this point it’s better to think about the Champions League.”
Roma coach Fabio Capello was delighted to secure a victory against a team he believes is better than reigning champions Juventus.
He said: “We saw two motivated teams. They were looking for second place and we were looking to beat what I consider the strongest squad in the championship.
“It was a difficult, tactical match. With Nesta and Maldini so quick to cover their full-backs, their defence was able to give plenty of support to the midfield.”
Capello lamented Roma’s disastrous start to the season, which left them with too much ground to make up to clinch a place in the Champions League next season.
“We accept the position we have. It’s a shame that Champions League qualification has run away from us,” he said.
The first-half was instantly forgettable with both defences on top and neither side creating a clear-cut chance.
But the game sprang to life three minutes after the break when Nesta’s last-ditch goalline clearance denied Roma the opening goal.
Tommasi chased Francesco Totti’s long ball and muscled his way past Milan defenders Maldini and Kakha Kaladze, before rounding Dida and striking towards the net.
Nesta refused to give up the chase and stretched out a leg which reached the ball just in time to ensure the scores remained level. Roma kept up the pressure and took a deserved lead in the 60th minute.
Cassano, a second-half substitute for Totti, started the move with a superb flick for Emerson to run on to, and the Brazilian midfielder took it past two defenders before running into Dida.
Milan’s Brazil international failed to clear the danger and the ball squirmed into the path of Cassano, who slotted home from four yards out.
Tommasi put Roma in the driving seat 14 minutes later by scoring a rare goal, the Italy international heading in Francisco Lima’s looping cross.
Roma appeared to be in total control until Tomasson handed Milan a lifeline with a well-placed volley nine minute from the end, but Roma dug deep to hold on for their eighth home win of the campaign.
Roma’s win saw them close the gap on seventh-placed Udinese to just one point.
Earlier on Saturday, Atalanta moved out of the bottom four but did little to ease their relegation fears after being held to a 2-2 draw by Serie A’s bottom club Torino.
A stoppage-time penalty from Cristiano Doni rescued a precious point for the home side, playing for the first time under new coach Giancarlo Finardi following the sacking of Giovanni Vavassori earlier this week.
Former Atalanta player Massimo Donati gave Torino a first-half lead with a header which struck the post before crossing the line, only for Doni to level the scores 14 minutes by converting Zauri’s cross.
Donati thought he had given Torino their first win of the season by scoring on the stroke of normal time following a swift counter-attack, but in time added on, Zauri was brought down in the box and Doni converted the spot-kick.