Inter were beaten with the last kick of the game, as they fell 1-0 to Olympique Marseille, piling more pressure on Claudio Ranieri.
It was crisis time for the Nerazzurri, who had lost five of their last six official games, including Friday’s 3-0 home defeat to Bologna. Reports suggested Ranieri could be sacked if he stumbled in the Champions League as well.
Walter Samuel returned from injury and Diego Forlan was finally able to play, having been cup-tied for the group phase. Wesley Sneijder was pushed up into a more attacking role with Mauro Zarate wide left. Olympique Marseille boss Didier Deschamps was without Loic Remy and Stephane Mbia, while Andre-Pierre Gignac was only fit for the bench.
Unusually, both these teams had a much stronger record away than at home in the group phase, losing twice on their own turf. Inter provided the oldest line-up in Champions League history with an average age of almost 32. President Massimo Moratti was in the stands.
Forlan had a good chance after 10 minutes, side-footing a splendid Esteban Cambiasso cross that was fingertipped out from under the bar by Steve Mandanda.
Javier Zanetti burst down the right and picked the pocket of Jeremy Morel and crossed for Zarate to turn wide. Cesar Azpilicueta went very close with his half-volley from a poor clearance that shaved a coat of paint off the crossbar.
Forlan scuffed another chance set up by Zarate, while Sneijder’s free kick was straight into the wall. As the move continued, Zanetti’s wayward cross-shot turned into an assist for Cambiasso, who was flagged for a dubious offside decision when forcing Mandanda’s save.
Marseille had a great opportunity on 29 minutes, as a free kick got two touches off Brandao and Souleymane Diawara to bobble wide, the two teammates getting in each others’ way.
Cambiasso pulled back for Zarate in space in the box, but the former Lazio forward didn’t get enough power behind the shot into Mandanda’s arms. Sneijder gave away the ball in midfield, forcing a Samuel foul on Brandao, but the free kick was poor.
Yuto Nagatomo replaced Maicon at the break as the Brazilian had a knee problem. Benoit Cheyrou sliced a deflected corner off target and Morel’s very powerful strike was well wide. Marseille were pouring on the pressure down their right flank, so Claudio Ranieri replaced Zarate with the more solid Joel Obi. The Nigerian youngster was tripped by Morgan Amalfitano on the very edge of the area, but the referee waved play on.
Cristian Chivu was booked and will therefore be suspended for the second leg. A Sneijder free kick was whipped into the area and knocked on by Forlan, but Stankovic only prodded it straight at Mandanda from six yards.
Marseille also threatened, as Amalfitano crossed for Andre Ayew and a glancing header whistled wide, as Nagatomo did just enough to put him off.
Nagatomo ran on to a Sneijder through ball, but this time he was put off by Morel’s sliding tackle. In the final minutes, another Amalfitano cross found Ayew’s head, but it was comfortably into the arms of Julio Cesar.
There was nothing comfortable about Julio Cesar’s save to punch away a swerving Ayew shot with his trailing hand. From that corner, Andre Ayew got away from Chivu for the glancing header into the far bottom corner, giving Marseille a dramatic lead in the final seconds of the match.
Marseille 1-0 Inter
Scorers: A Ayew 93 (M)
Olympique Marseille: Mandanda; Azpilicueta (Fanni 80), Diawara, N'Koulou, Morel; Diarra, Cheyrou (Kabore 83); Amalfitano, Valbuena, A Ayew; Brandao (J Ayew 72)
Inter: Julio Cesar; Maicon (Nagatomo 46), Lucio, Samuel, Chivu; Zanetti, Stankovic, Cambiasso, Zarate (Obi 63); Sneijder; Forlan
Ref: Cuneyt Cakir (Tur)