Hernán Crespo's fine first-half strike proved enough for FC Internazionale Milano to qualify for the last 16 and end Sporting Clube de Portugal's hopes of advancing from Group B.
All to play for
The Nerazzurri took to the field knowing that unless they won, they would be left facing a difficult trip to FC Bayern München in two weeks' time, but the Argentinian forward's first UEFA Champions League goal in just under a year – his last came 364 days ago for Chelsea FC – means Inter will now compete for section supremacy in Bavaria. Sporting still have the UEFA Cup to play for, and will enter that competition with a home draw against FC Spartak Moskva on Matchday 6.
Defender Rodrigo Tello had said beforehand that Sporting would be happy with a point and coach Paulo Bento's decision to deploy Alecsandro alone in attack appeared to endorse that view. However, a five-man midfield gave the visitors plenty of early possession, with João Moutinho and Custódio prominent. Sporting's achilles heel, though, was their tendency to give away fouls on the edge of the area when under pressure, enabling Fabio Grosso to try his luck with two fierce set-pieces – both of which swerved outside rather than inside the left-hand post – within the first quarter of an hour.
Maicon's 13th-minute foul on Alecsandro, for which he was booked, set the tone for a fractious 20 minutes punctuated by mistimed tackles and errant passing. Defender Marco Caneira had to go off with a foot injury to be replaced by Abel, who also limped out of the fray soon after. Undeterred, Sporting kept their shape and had their first shot on goal when Pontus Farnerud fired wide on the half-hour, before Tonel rose five minutes later to head Tello's free-kick centimetres to the right of the far post. He was made to pay for that miss within seconds as Dejan Stanković's delicious chipped pass over the visiting defence set Crespo free and the No18 unleashed an unstoppable half-volley past Ricardo from just inside the area.
Bento's men stuck to their neat passing approach, however, and almost conjured a breakthrough of their own from a quickly-taken short corner on 40 minutes. Tello had time to send in a low shot but Marco Materazzi stretched to deflect the goal-bound effort over the bar. At the other end, Crespo nearly scored from Inter's next corner, eluding his marker at the front post to glance Stanković's centre over the woodwork.
Sporting introduced the creative talent of Carlos Martins on the hour in a bid to change things but his injury-depleted side struggled to carve out noteworthy opportunities against a solid Inter rearguard. The home team were not so assured in attack either as Crespo failed to turn in Grosso's 78th-minute cross with the goal gaping - although his work, and Inter's, was done.