Julio Cruz again proved to be FC Spartak Moskva's nemesis, taking his tally to three goals in two games with the winner at the Luzhniki Stadium as FC Internazionale Milano's Group B revival continued.
Fresh from his double salvo at the San Siro on Matchday 3, the Argentinian's strike after just 59 seconds was enough to give Roberto Mancini's side three priceless points in the race to reach the knockout stage. Spartak, meanwhile, remain anchored to the bottom of the group with just one point.
Buoyed by a thrilling derby victory over AC Milan at the weekend, Inter made the perfect start when they took an instant lead in the Russian capital. A misjudgment by Martin Stranzl put Zlatan Ibrahimović in the clear and the Swede drove into the area before squaring the ball for Cruz to side-foot high into the roof of the net for his 16th UEFA Champions League goal.
It was hardly the sort of opening Spartak coach Vladimir Fedotov had envisaged, especially after he claimed his team needed to repay the fans following a poor return of one point from their first three matches. It took a while for the hosts to recover from the setback and their first sight of goal did not arrive until the 20th minute. Denis Boyarintsev was played in by a clever Roman Pavlyuchenko pass, but his left-footed effort was smothered by Júlio César who was quickly off his line. The Nerazzurri keeper was in the thick of the action minutes later when he was forced to punch clear a swerving piledriver from Mozart.
While Spartak were largely restricted to long-range attempts, Inter looked menacing every time they ventured forward and unhinged the home defence with regularity thanks to the clever movement of Cruz and Ibrahimović. Indeed, Cruz will feel he should have hit the target after he was threaded through by a perfectly-weighted pass from Dejan Stanković soon after the half-hour.
Inter were again quickly out of the blocks at the beginning of the second half and should have put the tie out of Spartak's reach on 47 minutes. A teasing cross from Luís Figo picked out Ibrahimović but the centre-forward sent his downward header wide of the post from seven metres. Ibrahimović then turned artichect, producing a sumptuous reverse pass which the maurading Maicon fired straight at Wojciech Kowalewski.
Spartak dictated the play thereafter and enjoyed long periods of possession, but the closest they came to troubling an obdurate Inter rearguard was when Roman Shishkin, the talented teenager playing in a more advanced role, crashed a glorious strike against the underside of the bar. Yet Inter remained a threat on the counterattack and Ibrahimović made Kowalewski save with his feet after being released by Figo. The Portugese veteran was sacrificed for Fabio Grosso in a defensive move by Mancini with 18 minutes to go, as the visitors survived the odd scare to close the game out.