Inter face Germany's Bayern Munich in the Champions League midweek [AFP]

Inter Milan’s title charge gained momentum as the defending Italian Serie A champions squeezed past Cagliari with a contentious goal on Saturday.

With the win closing the gap on leaders AC Milan, Inter's bitter city rivals can push their lead over their neighbours back out to five points with victory on Sunday at Chievo.

The Nerazzurri's ninth win in 11 league games ensured they kept up the pressure ahead of their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

Controversial

Inter's goal was awarded to Inter defender Andrea Ranocchia, but was later given to Moroccan international Kharja after replays failed to show whether Ranocchia or Cagliari defender Michele Canini got the final touch from Kharja's shot.

"We played as well as we knew we could tonight,'' Inter fullback Maicon said.

"In the first half it was a high tempo, but understandably that slowed down in the second.''

Both teams came out in determined manner and Inter striker Goran Pandev immediately went close with a long range shot that Michael Agazzi pushed away for a corner.

Inter's Julio Cesar then needed to be alert to stop Conti's header and Agazzi's quick reactions again stopped Pandev after the Macedonian found space to shoot.

Inter coach Leonardo used the Cagliari game to give Pandev a rare start.

The striker is set to fill in against the Germans for the ineligible Giampaolo Pazzini, partnering Samuel Eto'o who was taken off in an insipid second half on Saturday to spare his legs.

Early lead

Results & fixtures

Saturday February 19

 Bologna 1-0 Palermo
 Inter Milan 1-0 Cagliari

Sunday February 20

 Lecce v Juventus
 Chievo v AC Milan
 Fiorentina v Sampdoria
 Genoa v Roma
 Lazio v Bari
 Parma v Cesena
 Udinese v Brescia
 Napoli v Catania

Kharja opened the scoring in the seventh. Inter worked a quick free kick to the Moroccan. His first shot was blocked, but he was quick to the rebound and his shot across the face of goal was deflected in.

Cagliari hit back immediately and Biondini fired in a low shot that Cesar turned away for a corner.

Just before the half-time whistle Yuto Nagatomo flung himself at the ball to deny Biondini after Andrea Lazarri's charged down shot ran loose in the box.

In the 66th Nene took advantage of a Thiago Motta mistake to fire in a shot that Cesar saved. Inter's defence then crowded out the Brazilian as he was set to shoot following a goalmouth scramble.

Wesley Sneijder and Lucio sat out the game as they battle to be fit to face Bayern and Inter, hanging on at the end of the match, badly missed the guile of the Dutch playmaker.

In Saturday's other match, seventh-placed Palermo's hopes of a Champions League spot took a blow when Daniele Paponi's header in stoppage time gave mid-table Bologna a 1-0 home win.

Injury-hit Palermo were reduced to 10 men on 57 minutes when Santiago Garcia was dismissed for a second booking. 

Source: Agencies