Inter put the win under lock and key in the first half, conquering Neftci 3-1 in Azerbaijan to go top of Group H. As Rubin Kazan beat Partizan Belgrade 2-0 today, the Nerazzurri are the joint leaders on four points.
Esteban Cambiasso took a new role at the centre of a three-man defence in this trip to Azerbaijan, but Diego Milito, Antonio Cassano, Javier Zanetti and others were rested. Nefcti are the first side ever from this country to play in a UEFA club competition group phase.
Curiously, the Tofig Bahramov Republican Stadium in Baku was named after the Russian linesman who famously ruled England’s goal crossed the line in the 1966 World Cup Final against Germany.
Inter, wearing an all-red strip, broke the deadlock after 10 minutes with their first real chance. Fredy Guarin sprung the offside trap down the right and rolled across for Philippe Coutinho, who smartly flicked it in from six yards with his heel to surprise the defenders around him.
Cambiasso had to act quickly to clear when Nicolas Canales pounced on a poor Samir Handanovic pass.
Coutinho was flabbergasted when the referee waved play on, as his dummies had appeared to lure Mahir Shukurov into a penalty foul.
Neftci threatened as a Shukurov free kick bounced on the six-yard line in front of a static Handanovic, but Inter were fortunate Flavinho just failed to get the final touch at full stretch.
Joel Obi was booked for a tackle so high that he accidentally clipped Shukurov in the head, while a marvellous Coutinho curler whistled just wide.
The young Brazilian then chested down the ball to sprint past a defender, but the goalkeeper came tearing out to parry.
Obi scored the second in a similar move to the first goal, as again Guarin went down the right undisturbed and rolled across for Obi to side-foot home from the spot. The midfielder celebrated his debut Inter goal with backflips, but it was also the club’s 500th goal in UEFA competition.
Neftci were dangerous from set plays, as a free kick was pulled back to the D for Rashad Sadygov to blast just off target.
The Nerazzurri made it 3-0 before the break, as Guarin’s through ball was deflected by Bruno Bertucci into the path of Marko Livaja for a diving header into the empty net.
Neftci started strong for the second half and Samir Handanovic had to tip a long-range Bertucci strike out from under the bar, then from the corner Sadygov’s effort was deflected.
The pressure paid off and Neftci got one back, scoring the first goal Inter have conceded on their travels this season. Julius Wobay took on the defender with a dummy and his wayward angled drive turned into an assist for the unmarked Canales at the back post.
Alvaro Pereira forced a double save out of goalkeeper Sasa Stamenkovic, but Handanovic also had to smother from close range on a corner. Stamenkovic got down to push a Livaja low shot round the upright.
Stramaccioni needed a change, so Andrea Ranocchia took Cambiasso’s centre-back role, moving the Argentine to a position in front of the defence. That seemed to take the sting out of any Neftci comeback.
18-year-old youth team substitute Luca Garritano set up a great chance for a fourth, but Guarin’s cross-shot was off target and Handanovic turned a Bertucci free kick out for a corner.
Neftci 1-3 Inter
Scorers: Coutinho 10 (I), Obi 30 (I), Livaja 42 (I), Canales 53 (N)
Neftci: Stamenkovic; Shukurov, Yunuszade, Mitreski, Bertucci; Ramos, Sadygov; Wobay, Flavinho; Nurahmadov (Seyidov 46), Canales
Inter: Handanovic; Silvestre, Cambiasso, Juan Jesus; Jonathan, Guarin (Gargano 82), Mudingayi, Obi (Ranocchia 64), Pereira; Coutinho (Garritano 75); Livaja
Ref: Blom (NED)