Inter Milan embraced the unusual challenge of dislodging Hellas Verona from the top four by producing a confident attacking performance that yielded a 4-2 Serie A win at San Siro.
Andrea Mandorlini, a lifelong Inter fan and veteran of nearly 200 games in the Nerazzurro shirt, had coached his promoted Verona side into fourth place with five wins from eight top-flight games.
But Inter are enjoying their own resurgence under Walter Mazzarri following last season’s dismal ninth-placed finish and his team built an early lead through Vangelis Moras’ own-goal and a sixth goal of the season from Rodrigo Palacio.
Raphael Martino’s classy response was quickly trumped by a third Inter goal from Esteban Cambiasso but, after Porto loanee Rolando put the result beyond doubt with his first goal for the Italians, Romulo made the scoreline respectable for the visitors with a precise late contribution.
Perhaps it was the setting, perhaps it was the unexpected and rare pressure of arriving in Milan as favourites to win, but Verona’s stage fright was immediately apparent.
The first goal was especially sloppy, Moras failing to deal properly with a weak shot from Jonathan that span off his feet and beyond Rafael in the ninth minute.
Verona could be forgiven for letting the sense of occasion affect their concentration but there was no excusing a failure to reorganise that allowed Inter an identical second goal.
Barely three minutes had passed when Martinho stubbed his attempted clearance of a Fredy Guarin shot across to Palacio in the six-yard box, where the grateful Argentinian converted with ease.
The message was gradually sinking in and Mandorlini’s men tightened up to enjoy a 20-minute purple patch that ultimately led to Martinho scoring in the 32nd minute. Luca Toni, who had just seen his close-range header sail over the bar, nodded the ball into the Brazilian’s path and Juan Pablo Carrizo was soon beaten with a cool finish. Inter suppressed the rebellion.
Yuto Nagatomo was frustrated to see his curling effort clatter a post in the 38th minute but it did not matter as Palacio offered the rebound to Cambiasso, who clipped it over the line.
Eleven minutes after the break, the Nerazzurri scored a fourth goal. This time Portuguese defender Rolando was the man to capitalise on a favourable rebound after Rafael had failed to clear the danger.
Mandorlini sat scratching his head and covered his eyes as Inter came within a whisker of adding a fifth goal, Jonathan missing the mark by inches with a violent drive.
Divided loyalties were torturing the Verona coach but he could smile again with a clear conscience in the 71st minute.
Veteran striker Toni was the provider again and his cute pass to Brazilian full-back Romulo was tucked inside the near post.
Juan Iturbe almost brought Verona within sight of an unlikely draw as time ticked away but his balletic shot on the turn sailed high into the San Siro stands.
What had been a good-tempered evening was sullied somewhat after the full-time whistle, both Moras and Inter substitute Ishak Belfodil earning needless red cards for an off-the-ball scuffle.