Internazionale moved into second place in Serie A courtesy of a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Napoli at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
The men from Naples were the form team coming into this fixture but the Nerazzurri went to the half-time interval with a two-goal advantage thanks to clinical finishes from Fredy Guarin and Diego Milito.
As with the first half, Napoli started the second in the ascendancy and Edinson Cavani halved the deficit on 54 minutes with a close-range and frantic finish as Inter ceded the initiative.
Christian Maggio passed up the opportunity to draw the game level in the closing moments but his header was straight at Samir Handanovic as the hosts held on for the win that saw them leapfrog Walter Mazzarri’s squad into second place, four points behind pacesetters Juve.
With a 1-0 win at Palermo earlier in the day extending Juventus’ lead at the top of Serie A to five points, this fixture between the other two protagonists of the 2012-13 Scudetto race took on further significance.
Andrea Stramaccioni was unable to call on the services of talisman Wesley Sneijder for the visit of the Azzurri – the Dutchman is officially listed as injured but an ongoing contractual dispute is widely seen to be the reason for his omission.
Marek Hamsik, who had been a doubt after missing Friday training due to flu symptoms, started for an in-form Napoli side who had scored 13 times in their last five league matches and they began on the front foot.
They had had the better of the opening exchanges when Antonio Cassano saw Fredy Guarin’s late run from deep to lift a corner to the far post that the Colombian controlled wonderfully well on the volley and fired past Morgan De Sanctis from the edge of the six-yard box with only eight minutes gone.
The early goal advantage afforded a front two of Diego Milito and Cassano space as they stretched the Azzurri defence, but, in Lorenzo Insigne, Cavani and Hamsik, Napoli have a front three of potent threat and, on balance, the visitors probably had the better of the chances.
First, having received the ball from Cavani, Insigne evaded a couple of desperate Inter lunges as he slalomed across the front of the box, but his effort dropped just the wrong side of the post. Insigne then turned provider for Cavani, but, having worked a yard of space in behind Juan Jesus, the Uruguayan inexplicably headed wide from the edge of the six-yard box.
Milito and Cassano continued to offer a threat up front with some intelligent running and Milito, ever the poacher, profited on a loose clearance to double his side’s advantage.
Guarin showed great sleight of foot to evade a challenge following a loose clearance from Juan Zuniga to feed the Argentine on the shoulder of the last man – Milito did well to hold off the challenge before slotting the ball past De Sanctis with 39 minutes gone.
Insigne almost halved his side’s disadvantage with an instinctive half-volley on the stroke of half-time, but it dropped just the wrong side of the post.
Mazzarri introduced Goran Pandev for Alessandro Gamberini at the break to further boost his side’s attacking potency and almost constant pressure paid dividends when Cavani followed up a saved Maggio effort to thrash the ball past Handanovic with 54 minutes gone.
Napoli were incessant as they chased the leveller but failed to really threaten the goal of Handanovic until late in the second half when Alvaro Pereira almost scored one of the great own goals following a centre from Cavani.
Inter remained a threat intermittently on the break but were on the back foot for the last 10 minutes and Maggio should have ensured a share of the spoils but his header was straight at Handanovic.
With that chance went Napoli’s last chance of getting something from an enthralling encounter.