Methodical Inter refuse to get carried away

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MILAN, Nov 28 (Reuters) Although Inter Milan have reached the Champions League last 16 at a canter, the Italian champions are more interested in extending their three-point lead in Serie A than thinking about the knockout stages.

The attitude probably stems from a patchy record in Europe when they have often flattered only to deceive in the latter phase.

Back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965 are scant reward for the riches Inter have possessed through the years.

''We wanted to finish off this group immediately,'' Julio Cruz told reporters on Tuesday after scoring the first goal in Inter's 3-0 win over Fenerbahce which also sealed top spot in Group G with a game to spare.

''The first objective has been achieved, now we can concentrate more on the championship where we hope to extend our lead before the winter break.'' Coach Roberto Mancini, 43 yesterday, was equally non-committal about looking ahead to the last 16 and speculating on whether Inter can seriously mount a challenge this season.

''It was important to wrap up qualification a game early because we will not have any more breaks up to Christmas. Now we can direct all our efforts on the league,'' he said.

Mancini can now rotate at PSV Eindhoven in two weeks with striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and defender Walter Samuel both intentionally picking up bookings against Fenerbahce.

The pair failed to retreat on free kicks, enabling them to receive suspensions for the PSV match.

Even Inter's fans are also yet to be excited by their European campaign, having been let down so many times before. Only 24,203 fans sprinkled themselves around the San Siro with the 5,000 Turks making more noise.

''There are lots of games, in Italy we are going through a particular moment (because of recent fan violence). Tickets are a bit expensive, perhaps for certain games prices need to be lowered,'' Mancini added.

Inter can play an English or continental style but are rarely flamboyant. Such pragmatism is serving them well and they hope it will continue to pay dividends.

REUTERS AB KN1610

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