Inter Milan will take a slender lead to the Luzhniki Stadium next Tuesday after beating CSKA Moscow 1-0 at the San Siro here on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
Diego 'Il Principe' Milito scored the only goal of the game during an Inter siege in the second half after a thoroughly forgettable first 45 minutes. Jose Mourinho's team, listless in the first period, were unrecognisable after the break and will be disappointed to have managed only the one goal. That it stayed 1-0 was thanks largely to goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, a reported target for Manchester United, who will have bolstered his burgeoning reputation with this performance.
Mourinho claimed he would have been happy with the result had it been offered to him before kick-off but lamented the fact they did not turn their domination into a more convincing victory. "If before the game someone offered me this result I'd have taken it straight away because it's a good result in the Champions League. It's a win and we'll go ahead with that," he said.
"But we played in a way where we should be able to be already thinking about the semi-finals but unfortunately we are not and we have a difficult game in Moscow to come."
We played in a way where we should be able to be already thinking about the semi-finals but unfortunately we are not and we have a difficult game in Moscow to come.
After the match, CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky admitted he was quite happy to have kept the score to 1-0. "Of course 1-0 is a good result but we should have been able to do better," he said. "We hoped to get a 0-0 but given how many chances they had, it could have been a lot worse than this.
"It didn't go the way we hoped it would, especially in attack. We were under a lot of pressure in defence and it was a difficult game," he said. "I hope that in Moscow in the return leg we'll be able to better organise our play."
In the first quarter of an hour there was little to get excited about, although Wesley Sneijder made sure Akinfeev was awake from a free-kick, and then Sergei Ignashevich returned the compliment for Julio Cesar. The first real opportunity came on 22 minutes as Goran Pandev hit a rising shot from almost 25 yards that sailed just over the bar.
Moments later Japan star Keisuke Honda teed up Milos Krasic in a great shooting position inside the box, but the Serbian midfielder shanked his effort miles off target. Nine minutes before the break Samuel Eto'o jinked into the CSKA area but his shot hit Esteban Cambiasso, who was in an offside position, and that really summed up a disjointed and dire first half.
Second half fire
Mourinho must have said something to his players at half-time because Inter finally got going an hour in after a dreadful clearance from CSKA fell straight to Cambiasso 25 yards out. The midfielder fed the marauding Dejan Stankovic, but the Serbian got the ball caught between his feet and his poked finish was straight at Akinfeev.
The hosts were playing with more urgency and intensity, and Pandev brought a flying one-handed save out of Akinfeev with a curling shot, while the goalkeeper then plunged low to his right to hold an Eto'o effort. The sudden surge of pressure told on 65 minutes as Sneijder passed to Milito, who found the bottom right hand corner from the edge of the area.
Next up it was the turn of veteran centre-half Marco Materazzi to head over from a free-kick. Inter were now rampant and Pandev played a one-two with Milito before rounding Akinfeev but Aleksei Berezutski got back to hack his shot off the line on 71 minutes.
Sneijder had a golden opportunity to double the lead on 84 minutes as Eto'o found him free on the left hand side of the area but instead of shooting left footed he pulled the ball back onto his right and then fired it wide of the near post. Two minutes later and Akinfeev was a double hero punching away a rifled effort from Cambiasso and then deflecting a rocket from Stankovic over the bar.