Goals in either half by Samuel Eto'o and Mario Balotelli fired FC Internazionale Milano into the UEFA Champions League first knockout round at the expense of FC Rubin Kazan.
The Nerazzurri had posed little threat before Eto'o broke the deadlock just after the half-hour, capitalising on excellent wing-play by Javier Zanetti and the awareness of Balotelli. The first goal was all-important in this must-win match for both sides and Balotelli all but ended the contest with a strike worthy of settling any game on 64 minutes, a spectacular long-range free-kick bringing San Siro to its feet and Inter into the first knockout round as Group F runners-up behind FC Barcelona.
With both sides requiring victory to guarantee progress the match got off to a cautious start, although José Mourinho's decision to field three strikers spoke volumes for his intent. Balotelli's inclusion might have been rewarded on seven minutes, when the Italy Under-21 forward rolled past Aleksei Popov and César Navas only to shoot straight at Sergei Ryzhikov. The visitors soon came closer to taking the lead themselves, Christian Noboa sending Gökdeniz Karadeniz through with a brilliant pinpoint pass, but Júlio César was alive to the forward's scuffed shot.
Inter needed inspiration; it came on the half-hour from their captain, Zanetti. The 36-year-old rolled back the years by weaving past a clutch of Rubin players on the left, and though he was eventually tackled the ball inadvertently reached Balotelli on the byline. The youngster cleverly cut it back for the unmarked Eto'o to rifle into the roof of the net.
Stung by the setback, Kurban Berdyev's men gained more urgency going forward, but that left them vulnerable to the counterattack. Zanetti again carved open the Rubin rearguard with another exciting run which was eventually halted illegally by Navas. Inter were growing with confidence, Wesley Sneijder finishing a fine team move involving Zanetti, Diego Milito and Thiago Motta with a shot that curled just over, while Maicon's effort before the break was so powerful it took two attempts from Ryzhikov to clear the danger.
Rubin raised their game after the restart, Alejandro Domínguez in particular threatening from set-pieces. The Argentinian caught Mourinho's men out with a corner which Gökdeniz side-footed over, while another found Navas unmarked at the far post but it was more of the same as the defender miscued. Domínguez had an opportunity himself when he raced on to Noboa's pass but Júlio César saved. Moments earlier Balotelli should have scored when he dragged across goal when teed up by Milito's miscue, but he soon made up for it, unleashing a blistering, swerving free-kick past Ryzhikov from 34 metres.
For perhaps the first time in this group stage, Inter now looked comfortable. Even when a Noboa effort fizzed wide they immediately went down the other end and flexed their attacking muscle again, Sneijder firing against the upright from long range. Nothing could spoil the Nerazzurri's night, however.