Inter Milan boost Serie A lead

ROME: Inter Milan responded to Juventus with a five-goal performance of their own on Thursday, beating Palermo 5-3 to open up a four-point lead over their Turin rival in the Serie A. Juventus routed Sampdoria 5-1 on Wednesday.

Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli scored twice for Inter, who led 4-0 at halftime, and Diego Milito came off the bench to add a late goal. Fabrizio Miccoli had two goals for Palermo, and forward Abel Mathias Platero Hernandez also scored for the visitors.

Inter have 25 points, Juventus 21, Sampdoria 20 and freshly promoted Parma was fourth with 17. Palermo have 15.

Eto’o opened the scoring with a penalty in the seventh minute. Balotelli was fouled to earn the spot kick and the 19-year-old wanted to take the penalty. Inter captain Javier Zanetti had to intervene and ushered Balotelli away, prompting the teenager to turn his back for Eto’o’s kick. Balotelli then thought twice and went over to hug Eto’o.

Having regained his focus, Balotelli scored with headers in the 34th and 42nd, then set up Eto’o’s second goal in the 44th. Milito profited from Maicon’s well-earned cross from the right flank to score in the 83rd after Palermo had drawn within one. Fabio Simplicio set up Miccoli’s first score with a long pass in the 49th and the diminutive forward had an easy time getting around defender Walter Samuel. Hernandez made it 4-2 in the 61st following a pass from midfielder Mattia Cassani and Miccoli scored again in the 67th, with Cassani again providing the setup. Eto’o exited with an apparent injury in the 74th.

Copa del Rey

MADRID: Villarreal were held to 1-1 by 10-man Puertollano in a Copa del Rey fourth-round matchup on Thursday. A second-half goal from French midfielder Robert Pires saved Villarreal’s blushes against the third-division team, although the result puts further pressure on coach Ernesto Valverde.

In Thursday’s other domestic cup games, Valladolid beat Mallorca 2-1 and Salamanca beat Racing Santander 1-0.

Puertollano’s Alvaro Valdes stunned Villarreal with a goal in the 14th minute. Villarreal struggled to respond and mustered only a handful of clear chances throughout the first half. With only one league win, Villarreal are languishing in the relegation zone.

Puertollano’s Jorge Juan Pelegrina was sent off to start the second half and Bruno Soriano nearly equalised moments later but his header was saved. With the clock ticking down, Valverde deployed regulars Marcos Senna and Joan Capdevila and the club responded soon after when Pires equalised in the 65th.

At Valladolid, defender Cesar Arzo put the hosts ahead in the fifth before Josep Marti equalised with a penalty in the 28th. Valladolid took the lead again 10 minutes from the end through Diego Costa. Second-division Salamanca went ahead against first-division Santander with a penalty two minutes from time from Salva Sevilla.