Inter Milan eased into the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds with a dominant 2-0 victory over Rubin Kazan in Group F at the San Siro on Wednesday to possibly save coach Jose Mourinho's job.
Rumours before the game suggested the Portuguese would be out at the end of the season if Inter failed to progress, but in the end there was little to worry about as goals from Samuel Eto'o and Mario Balotelli ensured a comfortable night.
After the match Mourinho hit back at those who had claimed his job was on the line. "No-one at Inter has said anything to me, not before the game and not after it," he said. "Journalists don't make decisions and ex-players don't make decisions and even if important people within the club who do make decisions said something to me, it wouldn't be a problem.
“I'm a calm coach because when a coach leaves a club it's difficult for him to find a job but if I leave Inter I'll be in demand. I can't say I'd choose exactly where I'd go but almost."
Although they were soundly out-played, Rubin could be well proud of their first endeavour in Europe's premier club competition that yielded a win in the Camp Nou. "The simple fact that we were playing in the Champions League is in itself a great step forward for our team and for our football," said Rubin coach Kurban Berdyev.
"To play in a group such as this with great teams such as Inter, Barcelona and Dynamo Kiev and to be a match for them is a great satisfaction. Also, when you look at how CSKA (Moscow) did (qualified for last 16), this has been great progress for Russian football."
Mourinho demonstrated his intent right from the start by picking an attacking line-up with three forwards and playmaker Wesley Sneijder in midfield. "We played an attacking team, it would have been difficult to be more attacking than this," said Mourinho.
"In the first 10 minutes we had chances to go 2-0 up. We didn't do it but after Mario scored the game was as good as over and of course the team could relax and had the confidence to play. We could have scored more goals. It seemed a normal victory, deserved, our players understood their responsibility. It wasn't an excellent performance but no-one, not even from Rubin, could deny that we deserved to win."
Inter were immediately on the attack as Balotelli made some space on eight minutes, but shot straight at goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov. Rubin had shown their threat on the counter in Barcelona - where they came away with a 2-1 win - and a defence splitting pass on 18 minutes played in Turk Gokdeniz Karadeniz in the inside left channel, but Julio Cesar got down well to keep out his near post shot.
The hosts went ahead on the half hour as captain Javier Zanetti brilliantly battled past two defenders on the left and although he lost the ball at the end, a defender's foot played it to Balotelli, whose backheel found Eto'o eight yards out and the Cameroon forward rifled home. The evergreen and adaptable 36-year-old Zanetti surged forward again on 43 minutes before Sneijder thumped a long-range effort just over. And in stoppage time right-back Maicon brought a one-handed save out of Ryzhikov as Inter finished the first half in the ascendancy.
Rubin came out in positive fashion after the break and Karadeniz fired a shot just over the bar from a half-cleared corner. And from another corner the unmarked Christian Noboa somehow failed to even hit the target from 10 yards out. However, Inter soon wrested back control of the game and substitute Esteban Cambiasso, on for the injured Dejan Stankovic, tested Ryzhikov with a curling left-footer while Balotelli twice fired off target from good positions.
But Kazan were straight back on the attack and Alejandro Dominguez found acres of space on the left before Julio Cesar beat out his fierce effort on 62 minutes. Yet just a minute later Balotelli all but sealed Inter's passage into the last 16 with an absolute screamer of a free-kick from almost 30 yards.
Moments later Balotelli almost slid home Diego Milito's cross at the far post as Inter found their swagger before Sneijder beat Ryzhikov but not the post on 73 minutes while the goalkeeper saved an Eto'o free-kick in injury time.