Inter Milan finally claimed its third straight Serie A title after defeating Parma 2-0 in the last game of the season.
|Inter Milan captain Javier Aldemar Zanetti is |
carried by fans from the field [AFP]
The Nerazzurri looked have the title all but won when it had secured an 11 point lead in February, but a string of poor results coupled with a resurgent Roma side saw the race go down to the final day.
However, for Inter fans this "scudetto,'' the 16th in Inter's 100-year existence, is the one that counts the most.
Inter won the 2005-06 title when Juventus and AC Milan, both of which finished higher in the standings, were disqualified for their involvement in a match-fixing scandal.
Inter won again last year, although Milan started the season with an eight-point handicap and Juventus was in Serie B after being relegated for its part in the scandal.
Third time lucky
After wrapping up the league title five games early last year, Inter needed two goals by second-half substitute Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the last game to clinch this time.
Inter had two previous chances to claim the title, but that was dashed first with a loss against Milan in the city derby and then last week with a draw against Siena.
Inter won back-to-back titles once in the 1950s and then again in the following decade, but the team had never won three straight until now.
Only Juventus with 27 and Milan with 17 have more titles.
Unbeatable through February, Inter occasionally looked shaky as the spring wore on and AS Roma went on a winning streak that cut into the Nerazzurri's once seemingly unassailable lead.
|Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored both goal to|
send the title to Milan [AFP]
An early elimination from the Champions League by Liverpool in the second round marred Inter's dominance in Serie A and showed domestic rivals the team could be beat.
Immediately following the loss to Liverpool, Inter coach Roberto Mancini announced that he would resign at the end of the season, then changed his mind after meeting with team owner Massimo Moratti a few days later.
A difficult period followed as Roma, buoyed after eliminating Real Madrid in the Champions League, cut away at Inter's lead.
Though Mancini's motivation for the surprise announcement about his resignation and then the step back were never made entirely clear, he may have been reacting to a reported meeting between Moratti and Jose Mourinho, who coached Chelsea to two Premier League titles.
Unconfirmed news reports said Mancini would be replaced by Mourinho at the end of the season.
Balotelli set for the big stage
When Inter looks to defend its title next year, the Nerazzurri will be able to count on rising teenage star Mario Balotelli, who scored several key goals late in the season.
Balotelli got more playing time when an injury forced Ibrahimovic to miss a series of games down the stretch.
But the Sweden striker, who scored 17 goals this season, still carried the team for several months.
Moratti took control of Inter in 1995 and had to wait a decade for his first scudetto, but now has three in a row.
Before the titles, Inter under Moratti had the reputation of being a hard-luck team, something that never was most evident then when the Nerazzuri entered the last game of the 2001-02 season in first place and managed to finish third behind Juventus and Roma.
Inter lost only 3 of the 38 games it has played this year to go along with 25 victories and 10 draws.