By Ivan Carvalho at Giuseppe Meazza
With a first-half strike from Julio Cruz and two more Obafemi Martins goals after the break, unbeaten FC Internazionale Milano assured themselves a first-place finish in Group G with a victory that left RSC Anderlecht as only the fifth side to exit a UEFA Champions League pool without a point.
While Inter knew that a victory would guarantee first place in the group, Anderlecht were facing the grim prospect of a seventh straight defeat in the competition. Despite the stakes, the two coaches opted to use several reserves, and both clubs were forced to select third-choice goalkeepers due to injury with Inter fielding Fabian Carini and Anderlecht selecting Jan van Steenberghe. Martins replaced the suspended Adriano in the Inter attack.
Inter could have opened the scoring in the fourth minute when Uruguayan forward Alvaro Recoba slid the ball past two defenders with both Martins and Cruz onside. Cruz left Martins to latch on to the pass and he promptly rounded Van Steenberghe only to send his low angled shot wide of the far post. Anderlecht responded four minutes later when forward Aruna Dindane got up to a free-kick but his header went high over Carini's goal.
Another Inter chance went begging when Martins lost possession before the Belgian side put together several attacking runs lead by Swedish international Christian Wilhelmsson. Left-back Olivier Deschacht did well to evade Greek international Georgios Karagounis to get into space but then sent his effort high.
Then it was Anderlecht's turn to be tested as Recoba sent in a 30-metre free-kick that Van Steenberghe easily handled. However, the Belgian goalkeeper was helpless in the 33rd minute when Recoba cleverly back-heeled the ball to Cruz in the penalty area and the Argentinian fought off his marker to slide his effort in.
Anderlecht meanwhile added to their injury woes as coach Hugo Broos - who had travelled with just 17 players from Belgium - had to substitute Deschacht with Anthony Vanden Borre.
As the second half got under way, Inter searched for the second with Karagounis finding space on the right edge of the penalty area but striking his effort wide. Anderlecht slowly built confidence with attacking forays down the right flank and had their first clear look at goal when midfield player Walter Baseggio headed softly into the arms of Carini.
Anderlecht, desperate to escape the group with at least one point and avoid an ignominious end to their Champions League season, continued to press as Yves Vanderhaeghe stepped up to warm Carini's gloves with a strong shot. But it was all for nought as, on the hour mark, Inter struck the hammer blow. Edgar Davids picked out Martins with a long pass and the Nigerian outran his marker to slot in the second goal.
Martins strikes twice
Martins found himself free again three minutes later as a breakdown in the Belgian side's backline left him one-on-one with the goalkeeper and he put it away easily, leaving Van Steenberghe to raise his arms in frustration. With that goal, victory was secure - and Anderlecht's fate sealed.