Inter almost managed to throw away a 3-0 first leg lead, but the 2-0 home defeat to Hajduk Split was enough to keep them in the Europa League.
The first leg’s 3-0 victory in Croatia seemed to have put qualification for the Europa League play-off firmly within the Nerazzurri’s grasp. Philippe Coutinho was promoted to the starting XI after his great goal in Split, though Douglas Maicon, Julio Cesar and Giampaolo Pazzini were dropped from the UEFA squad list. Cristian Chivu dislocated his toe in the first leg.
This was the first ever match played on the new San Siro turf, which is a revolutionary hybrid between synthetic and natural elements.
Walter Samuel was booked within five minutes for a late tackle on Ivan Vukovic. There was also a nasty clash of heads between Diego Milito and Mario Maloca, the Croat getting the worst of it and needing to be replaced.
The 17-year-old Ibrahima Mbaye completed a give-and-go with Wesley Sneijder to burst to the by-line and pull back past the goalkeeper, but some desperate defending stopped Milito tapping in.
Javier Zanetti brought the house down with a sneaky nutmeg to burst into the box. Even at age 38, the captain remains a leader for Inter. Another great run from Zanetti pulled back for Coutinho, whose deflected finish came off the underside of the crossbar from six yards.
However Hajduk were awarded a clear penalty when Samuel completely mistimed his tackle to take down Vukovic’s ankle. The defender risked a second yellow card, but stayed on to watch Ante Vukusic sent Samir Handanovic the wrong way from the spot.
Inter were running a few too many risks on the back of their first leg cushion, as moments later Antonio Milic burst through between defenders and forced Handanovic to rush off his line to parry for a corner.
Coutinho should’ve equalised when he was sent clear through the centre by Sneijder, but drew out the goalkeeper and toe-poked it wide of the far post.
Fredy Guarin unleashed a right-foot screamer from distance that Goran Blazevic struggled to beat away with one hand. A scuffed Milito angled drive was off target, while just before the break a stunning Coutinho volley from the edge of the box skimmed the crossbar and another effort was well smothered.
In stoppages Milito sprung the offside trap and side-footed well wide of the far top corner. Straight after the restart, Coutinho drilled past the near post, but Handanovic had to rush off his line to charge down another Vukusic strike when Samuel mistimed the offside trap.
Vukusic again took the defence by surprise only to blast well wide, while Samuel risked giving away a penalty for a handling offence on the Vrsajevic cross-shot.
The Nerazzurri plunged into uncertainty when conceding a second on the counter-attack. Substitute Yuto Nagatomo wanted a free kick, but Hajduk burst down the other end and Vukovic scored a corker! He flicked up the ball from just inside the box and then hooked it into the far top corner past a stunned Handanovic.
This made it 3-2 on aggregate for Inter, so one more goal from the visitors would force extra time.
Coutinho squirmed between four players in the area, but Jonathan finished over. Samuele Longo replaced Coutinho, placing Esteban Cambiasso in front of the defence.
Sneijder won back possession and hit a missile just past the far post, then from a corner Andrea Ranocchia’s header was cleared before Longo could get the final touch.
Nagatomo’s angled drive was smothered at the near stick, though Zanetti showed great strength and pace to close down another Vukusic counter when Ranocchia was left behind.
Blazevic performed a fine double save on the Longo cross and Sneijder’s follow-up. There was a massive risk on 78 minutes, as Zanetti’s first error lost the ball in midfield and Vukusic spun his daisy-cutter inches past the base of the upright with Handanovic rooted to the spot.
Longo sprung the offside trap on Guarin’s through ball, but Blazevic timed his run perfectly to close down the youngster. Defender Matias Silvestre replaced the tired Sneijder for the final seven minutes, as Inter clung to their slender 3-2 aggregate lead in front of mostly silent fans.
Inter 0-2 Hajduk Split (3-2 agg)
Scorers: Vukusic pen 22 (H), Vukovic 58 (H)
Inter:Handanovic; Jonathan, Ranocchia, Samuel, Mbaye (Nagatomo 55); Zanetti, Cambiasso, Guarin; Sneijder (Silvestre 83); Coutinho (Longo 63), Milito
Hajduk Split:Blazevic; Vrsajevic, Maloca (Jonjic 10), Milovic, Jozinovic; Oremus, Milic, Radosevic, Andrijasevic (Caktas 59); Vukusic, Vukovic (Lustica 83)
Ref: Turpin (Fra)