Football: Milan up to second as Juve boost title defence

Riccardo Montolivo pounced on the rebound from a Mario Balotelli free-kick to seal a 1-0 win for AC Milan over Chievo on Saturday which moved the Rossoneri up to second place in Serie A 11 points behind Juventus.

Napoli, who dropped to third, can reclaim second spot if they beat Torino in Saturday's late match.

Earlier Saturday, Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri scored one apiece for Juve as the champions reinforced their Serie A title defence with a commanding 2-1 away win to Inter Milan at the San Siro.

Inter began the day 18 points adrift of the leaders and despite having a game in hand had hoped to close the gap as they continue to battle for a top three place that would all but guarantee Champions League football next season.

However, the Nerazzurri, who welcomed several players back late from World Cup qualifying matches in South America, were outclassed in the first half and, despite Argentine Rodrigo Palacio producing a superb leveller 10 minutes after the restart, were silenced again when Matri struck on the hour.

After Lazio's 2-1 win at home to Catania, Inter dropped one place to sixth.

Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni admitted the early goal had upset his plans.

"Their first goal after only a few minutes obviously gave Juventus the momentum and we didn't really get going until the second half," said Stramaccioni.

"We were playing open football and really came into it in the second half, but they scored their second when we were playing our best football."

Juve counterpart Antonio Conte once again flirted with controversy when he pumped his fists in celebration in the direction of Juve's fans after the match.

But afterwards he said the champions must remain cautious.

"It's another step in the right direction," said Conte, who won the title with Juve last year in his first season in charge.

"But Napoli and Milan won't wait for us if we slip up, so we have to keep on winning."

Although most pundits say the Scudetto is now Juve's to lose, the fight for second place - synonymous with automatic Champions League qualification - is now well and truly on.

Balotelli saw several chances go amiss, including several free kick opportunities, but it was from one set-piece in the 25th minute that Milan took the lead.

Balotelli struck from outside the area and when Christian Puggioni failed to hold the striker's drive Montolivo slid in quickest to poke the ball home.

Given the persistent rain and the poor state of the playing surface in Verona it was far from an entertaining encounter.

However, Milan continued to dominate after the restart and should have scored more goals.

Skipper Massimo Ambrosini found himself in a rare scoring position just after the hour but his defender's reflexes were nothing to an onrushing Puggioni, who came out smartly to smother.

Milan came close again when Robinho was sent through on 67 minutes but his strike from 10 metres out was blocked by an alert Puggioni.

Two minutes later Chievo spurned their best chance of the match although Christian Abbiati produced a fine one-handed save to tip over a piledriver from Luciano, who had replaced Sebastien Frey only minutes earlier.

Chievo were creating little and their chances of levelling were hit when defender Dario Dainelli saw red for hauling down a charging Balotelli, his second bookable offence.

Balotelli's resulting free kick was on target but once again Puggioni parried.