Serie A - Inter grind out victory
A gritty second-half performance from an out-of-form Inter Milan ensured that the Nerazzurri overcome Cagliari 2-1 in the Serie A.
With Inter positioned unthinkably close to the Serie A dropzone, and having won only one of four games at home this term, a win tonight was vital to kickstart their much loftier ambitions.
But Claudio Ranieri’s men began the match in laboured fashion as their front pairing of Giampaolo Pazzini and Mauro Zarate, along with their playmaker Coutinho sitting just behind (who was called up to start due to the late omission of Wesley Sneijder),failed to click.
Indeed, it was notable that Inter’s best two chances of a cagey first-half came out of absolutely nothing.
First, Pazzini rattled the Cagliari crossbar with a fierce turn-and-shot from the edge of the box which Michael Agazzi expertly got fingertips to in the 22nd minute.
Then, just four minutes later, Zarate did the same - sending a sweetly struck, curling free-kick from 20 yards out towards the left-hand top corner of the Cagliari goal which Agazzi acrobatically tipped onto the crossbar.
Cagliari themselves rarely threatened in those opening 45 minutes, with Davide Biondini looking the most likely to make something happen on the break with a couple of crosses into the Inter box.
Inter attempted to freshen up their strikeforce with the introduction of Ricardo Alvarez for the ineffectual Zarate at the start of the second-half, and the Argentinean had a part to play in the Nerazzurri’s opener.
Francesco Pisano brought down Coutinho out on the left-flank and Alvarez whipped in the free-kick, which Pazzini proceeded to flick-on for the late-arriving Motta to slide home in the 54th minute. But the goal came under controversial circumstances, as Motta both appeared to handle the ball and convert Pazzini’s header from an offside position.
With Cagliari’s heads now down, Inter pressed forward for the second and it duly came on the hour-mark from Coutinho.
Again, Alvarez had a hand in the move, combining with Cambiasso before Coutinho was fed out on the left-edge of the Cagliari penalty box. The Brazilian switched the ball onto his right foot before firing low past Agazzi to give Inter breathing space.
In response, Cagliari brought on Larrivey and Segundo Ibarbo and the pair brought much-needed attacking verve to the visitors’ play – the former testing Julio Cesar with a low drive in the 68th minute and the latter threatening on several occasions with energetic, darting runs through the middle and down Inter’s left channel.
But Davide Ballardini’s men were unable to capitalise having pinned Inter back, and that allowed the home side to regain their composure and see out the remaining twenty minutes relatively comfortably – that was until Larrivey’s 88th minute effort.
Radja Nainggolan crossed low from the left and the substitute striker stuck out a leg to slot home and bring the visitors right back into the match with injury time closing in.
But Inter held their nerve in those closing moments to record an important victory in their bid to move clear of the lower reaches of the table.