A 2-0 win at Bayer 04 Leverkusen ensured Internazionale FC reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League by virtue of finishing in second place in Group A.
Inter began the match a point ahead of Newcastle United FC but knew that a victory would guarantee their progress. In the event, FC Barcelona's 2-0 win at St James' Park rendered Inter's result irrelevant, although the Serie A side inflicted a seventh successive Champions League defeat on Leverkusen - making last season's finalists the first team to lose all six games in the second group stage.
Inter coach Héctor Cúper faced a striker shortage before the match, with Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba suspended, Gabriel Batistuta ineligible and Mohamed Kallon and Hernán Crespo injured. The 18-year-old Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins, who had previously played only five games for the first team, was left to lead the away side's attack.
Leverkusen coach Thomas Hörster had announced his intention to focus on the 1. Bundesliga for the remainder of the season, and it was perhaps no surprise that Inter enjoyed the better of the early exchanges. Sérgio Conceição's shot flew narrowly over the crossbar in the very first minute, before Francesco Coco's left-wing cross found Domenico Morfeo, who created a clear opening for Martins but the striker shot wide under pressure.
Leverkusen came into the game as the half wore on but struggled to create clear chances, and Martins still looked the more likely source of goals, with his pace causing problems for his marker, Thomas Kleine. Twice more the forward had clear sights of goal but on each occasion he was denied by Hans-Jörg Butt.
However, the young striker did finally break the deadlock after 36 minutes, again bursting clear from Morfeo's pass after the makeshift striker capitalised on a defensive misunderstanding between Diego Placente and Radoslaw Kaluzny. This time Martins gave Butt no chance, calmly sidefooting beyond the goalkeeper and into the net.
A minute before half-time, Martins again threatened to fashion a scoring chance, only to be brought down by Kleine just inside the penalty area. Presented with an opportunity to virtually seal Inter's place in Friday's quarter-final draw, Morfeo saw his shot saved brilliantly by Butt diving to his left.
The home team began the second period in positive fashion, as França went close three times, but largely struggled to break down a determined Inter side. Although Inter seemed content to preserve their narrow lead, Martins very nearly extended it three minutes before the hour as he latched on to a high long ball forward. Again, though, Butt saved, this time with his legs.
Fittingly, Inter sealed maximum points in the final minute as Martins' pass freed Coco. The Italian international's cross found Emre Belözoglu in time and space, and the Turkish midfield player coolly lifted the ball over Butt. While Leverkusen are left to rebuild, Inter can contemplate a possible quarter-final against AC Milan. Some prospect.
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