FC Internazionale Milano are on the brink of the UEFA Champions League first knockout round after recovering a two-goal deficit to complete a thrilling comeback against PFC CSKA Moskva, who now have no chance of progress from Group G.
Inter remain top of the section with nine points and are all but assured of a place in the last 16 after a dramatic revival against a CSKA side who went two up after 31 minutes thanks to well-worked goals from Jô and Vágner Love. Zlatan Ibrahimović and Esteban Cambiasso brought the Nerazzurri back into the match with two strikes in three minutes, and the same players scored again after the break to secure a fine victory.
Inter began brightly with Maicon and Javier Zanetti, in particular, combining well down the right. The Italian title-holders won three early corners, the last of which found Walter Samuel, who failed to apply a finish of the quality of his winning goal in Moscow a fortnight ago. Maicon was also allowed too much room to roam on the quarter-hour, CSKA's five-man midfield inviting him to try a shot from range which swerved a metre wide.
The Russian team were also lively coming forward, with Daniel Carvalho and Dudu looking to pick out the runs of Jô and Love. The latter had sent an effort fizzing wide on eight minutes and Love had also tried his luck to no avail before the Brazilian partnership linked up for the opening goal. Jô skilfully turned Samuel on the halfway line and left him trailing in his wake before exchanging a one-two on the edge of the area with Love and curling a delightful 20-metre shot into the net.
Skill and composure
Inter's response was to push forward, Ibrahimović looping a volley over following a goalmouth scramble, yet the hosts were caught cold on the counterattack for a second time. Carvalho dissected the Inter back line with a long ball to Love, who showed extraordinary skill and composure to deceive Maicon and Samuel before letting fly a fierce shot high beyond Júlio César.
With the exception of a hundred or so travelling supporters in the corner of the Curva Sud, the San Siro had been silenced, but it came back to life within 60 seconds when Ibrahimović arrived unmarked at the far post to side-foot Cristian Chivu's free-kick past Igor Akinfeev. On 34 minutes it was all-square. The excellent Maicon threaded a ball into the box, Hernán Crespo supplied the dummy and his compatriot Cambiasso did the rest, firing across Akinfeev for the equaliser.
Out of reach
Valeri Gazzaev's half-time team talk almost produced an immediate reply as Carvalho and Love both tested Júlio César, although the first clear opportunity fell to the unmarked Cambiasso who nodded a free header back across an open goal and wide. The Argentinian made amends when applying a crisp finish to Julio Cruz's clever flick from a Chivu corner on 67 minutes, and with a quarter of an hour to go Ibrahimović capped a fine display by rifling high into net from distance. The knockout stage beckons for Roberto Mancini's men.