Rodrigo Palacio’s brace of delightful lobs gave Inter a 2-0 win over CFR Cluj, but there are fears Diego Milito has suffered a serious knee injury.
The Nerazzurri gave Mateo Kovacic his first start pulling the midfield strings and returned to a 4-3-1-2 system with Fredy Guarin supporting Diego Milito and Antonio Cassano. CFR Cluj came to the Europa League Round of 32 by finishing third in their Champions League group, which included a shock victory away to Manchester United.
In the opening minutes Robert Maah volleyed off target after an Andrea Ranocchia clearance, but there was an immediate blow for Inter as Milito seemed to badly sprain his left knee. Il Principe was stretchered off in visible pain to make way for Rodrigo Palacio and there are fears of ligament damage.
Cassano’s assist sent Esteban Cambiasso through, but his pass to Palacio was misplaced. Kovacic had a snapshot smothered and Inter broke through moments later.
Fredy Guarin robbed Lazslo Sepsi in midfield and burst forward, his slide-rule pass sending Palacio clear for a delicate lob over the on-rushing goalkeeper.
Cluj fought back and a Sepsi ball across the six-yard box would’ve been easy to tap in, but Gabriel Muresan just failed to get the final touch after Matias Silvestre missed.
A delightful Cassano ‘rabona’ again put Palacio in a great position to score, but his finish was charged down by Rada. The move continued with another Palacio effort blocked and the goalkeeper capturing a Cambiasso strike.
Cluj also lost a player to injury in the first half, as Nicolas Godemeche limped off. Cassano slipped at the crucial moment during a counter-attack and Kovacic’s snapshot whistled wide from distance.
In first half stoppages, Samir Handanovic was at full stretch to fingertip a Ionut Rada free kick round the base of the far post.
Cassano curled wide and Rada needed a desperate intervention to stop FantAntonio’s assist sending Guarin clear on goal.
Palacio again sprung the offside trap only for Cassano to fumble the finish, but the second half was sluggish from both sides.
Inter finally made it a more reassuring scoreline in the final minutes, as Palacio sprung the offside trap in the final third on a Kovacic assist, drew the goalkeeper out and netted with a splendid lob from a tight angle.
Inter 2-0 Cluj
Scorers: Palacio 20, 87 (I)
Inter: Handanovic; Nagatomo, Silvestre, Ranocchia, Pereira; Cambiasso, Kovacic (Jonathan 88), Gargano; Guarin; Milito (Palacio 10), Cassano (Alvarez 74)
Cluj: Felgueiras; Ivo Pinto, Piccolo, Cadu, Camora; Muresan, Godemeche (Maftei 39), Rada, Sepsi; Maah (Hora 79), Rui Pedro (Bjelanovic 84)
Ref: Koukoulakis (GRE)