Inter Milan fires coach Benitez after 6 months

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Inter Milan's coach Rafael Benitez gestures during the Italian Serie A soccer match against Lazio at the Olympic stadium in Rome in this Dec 3, 2010 file photo. Benitez's reign as Inter Milan coach ended in ignominy on Dec 23, 2010 when he left the European champions after just six months in charge having dared to question club owner Massimo Moratti's authority.

MILAN - Rafa Benitez's spell as Inter Milan coach ended after just six months on Thursday.

The European and Italian champion announced that it had reached a "mutually satisfactory agreement" with Benitez to terminate his contract, which ran until the end of next season.

Benitez, who took charge in June after Jose Mourinho joined Real Madrid, guided Inter to the Club World Cup title last weekend.

But the European champion is languishing in seventh place in Serie A, 13 points behind city rival AC Milan.

"Inter Milan and Rafael Benitez can announce that they have reached a mutually satisfactory agreement for the early termination of his contract," the club said on its website. "Inter thank Rafael Benitez for his work in leading his team to success in the Italian Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup."

Former AC Milan coach Leonardo is being tipped to replace Benitez by the time Serie A resumes January 6, with Inter hosting second-place Napoli.

Benitez arrived in Milan after six years in charge at Liverpool, where he won the Champions League in 2005. He reportedly angered club president Massimo Moratti after the Club World Cup when he demanded that the board either fully support him and buy new players in January, or let him go.

"I'm disappointed over the end of the relationship with Benitez, but the breakup had become pretty much inevitable," Moratti was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

Benitez's reign has been strained almost from the start, although he had a hard act to follow, with Mourinho having led Inter to the Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League titles last season the first such treble for an Italian club.

Under Benitez, Inter was beaten 2-0 by Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup in August and opened the defense of its Champions League title in September with a disappointing 2-2 draw at unheralded Dutch side FC Twente, which was making its debut in the competition.

Other failures followed, such as a 3-1 loss at Tottenham in Europe, and a painful 1-0 loss to Milan in the city derby last month.

In Benitez's defense, Inter has been devastated by a series of injuries to top players, with the likes of Julio Cesar, Maicon, Walter Samuel, Cristian Chivu, Esteban Cambiasso, Javier Zanetti and Diego Milito all missing large chunks of action.

In addition, standout striker Samuel Eto'o was handed a three-match ban in Serie A for head-butting an opponent with Chievo Verona last month, and playmaker Wesley Sneijder has been far from his best after leading the Netherlands to the World Cup final. Sneijder acknowledged last month that he was suffering from anemia.

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The screen grab from the official website of Inter Milan shows the club's announcement of terminating the contract with Benitez, Dec 23, 2010.

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Inter Milan's coach Rafael Benitez gestures before the start of the Italian serie A soccer match against Lecce at the Via del Mare stadium in Lecce in this Nov 10, 2010 file photo.