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FC Internazionale Milano will be hopeful of reaching the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the first time in seven years after overcoming PFC CSKA Moskva at San Siro, but a fine performance from goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev means Diego Milito's goal is all that separates the sides.
Milito scored midway through the second half after a sustained spell of Nerazzurri pressure, but Inter may rue a succession of late chances that could have given them more daylight. Akinfeev was largely responsible for that, though suspensions to Miloš Krasić and Evgeni Aldonin, who both picked up bookings, could prove just as telling in the second leg.
With so much at stake it was perhaps understandable that the game got off to a cagey start, identical 4-2-3-1 formations serving to cancel each other out, reducing both sides to bypassing cluttered defences with shots from range. Wesley Sneijder's early free-kick and Dejan Stanković's half-volley both flew wide while Goran Pandev's venomous curler just cleared the bar as Inter tried to increase the tempo. CSKA were happy to lie deep and hit them on the break, usually through Krasić.
All the visitors had to show for their conservative approach was a low 13th-minute free-kick by Sergei Ignashevich and a wild Tomáš Necid effort from a tight angle. The longer they sat back the more pressure they invited, with Sneijder, Esteban Cambiasso and Milito finding chinks in their armour with quick passing moves. Inter failed to exploit their possession, however, Sneijder coming the closest before the break after a probing run from deep led to a give-and-go with Milito, but resulted in a shot at full stretch which lacked power and direction.
CSKA showed greater purpose after the break. Pavel Mamaev tried his luck from range and Aldonin forced Júlio César to tip his blistering strike over the bar, while Marco Materazzi was forced into a last-ditch tackle to cut out Krasić's low cross. It was Inter, though, who might have been ahead on the hour after Cambiasso's incisive pass found Stanković, only for the midfielder's control to betray him, his end product weak. Suddenly Inter were at full tilt, Eto'o forcing Akinfeev into a save low to his right.
The goal promptly arrived following a flowing move, Sneijder whirring down the left and picking out Milito on the edge of the area; the striker guided a crisp low strike past the Russia No1. It could soon have been two as Pandev, following an exchange with Milito, wove his way around the keeper only to see his goalbound shot superbly cleared off the line by Aleksei Berezutski.
In a frenetic last five minutes Inter could have extended their lead, Sneijder breaking into the area, only to send his shot past the near post. Then it was all Akinfeev, who twice made instinctive saves to deny Cambiasso from close range before cooling Stanković's deflected follow-up after it had fizzed though a crowded area. It is all to play for next Tuesday.
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