Julio Cruz denied Anorthosis Famagusta FC an improbable victory against FC Internazionale Milano with a late goal in Cyprus on a night when the Italian champions flirted with disaster.
The UEFA Champions League Group B game looked to be going with the form book as Mario Balotelli gave Inter an early lead, although a Nicolás Burdisso slip allowed Cédric Bardon to level. Marco Materazzi put Inter ahead again, but Georgios Panagi scored more by luck than judgement to equalise again before half-time and Nikolaos Frousos's goal five minutes into the second half seemed to have given Anorthosis a memorable victory. Cruz equalised with ten minutes remaining, however, and Inter had chances to win it in the closing minute although they nevertheless remain three points clear of Anorthosis at the top of the pool. The Italian side will qualify by defeating Panathinaikos FC in Milan on 26 November, when Anorthosis could also go through with victory here against Werder Bremen.
Both teams showed attacking intent from the off, Zlatan Ibrahimović's close-range effort being cleared in the second minute, and on 13 minutes Inter took the lead as Arian Beqaj parried the Swedish striker's blistering free-kick from long range, Balotelli reacting quickest to knock in the rebound. José Mourinho's side almost added a second on 26 minutes, Dejan Stanković playing a clever one-two with Ricardo Quaresma before firing just wide. However, the mood changed just past the half-hour. Burdisso's attempted header back to his goalkeeper completely wrong-footed Júlio César, allowing French midfielder Bardon to tap the ball into an empty net and send the home supporters into raptures.
Inter looked shaken but regained the initiative on 44 minutes as Materazzi sped in to head a corner-kick through the legs of Beqaj, yet another moment of uncertainty in the visiting defence brought the hosts level again. A minute into added time, Esteban Cambiasso attempted to clear only for his header to cannon off the back of the head of Anorthosis substitute Georgios Panagi and loop over Júlio César into the net.
The visitors had further reason to curse their luck five minutes after the break as another misplaced clearance gave Temuri Ketsbaia's side the lead for the first time. Bardon's first-time cross from the right found Burdisso scampering to clear but this time his header struck Frousos in the stomach, the ball falling perfectly for the veteran striker to drive a low right-footed strike past the startled Júlio César.
Things could have got even worse for Inter had Júlio César not pulled off a stretching save to push Andreas Konstantinou's strike around his left-hand post. Beqaj then produced an even more stirring effort at the other end to force a powerful Ibrahimović effort away for a corner. The Albanian had no chance as substitute Cruz rose to head Balotelli's free-kick home ten minutes from time, but made a spectacular stop not long afterwards to deny Cambiasso the winner and ensure his side's efforts were rewarded with a point.