Ivan Perisic and Danilo D'Ambrosio struck late to seal a 2-1 win over Bologna on Saturday and inject life into Inter Milan's desperate bid to end a four-year wait for Champions League football.
Bologna, who lost striker Mattia Destro to injury in the opening minutes, looked to be heading for their fourth consecutive stalemate at the San Siro.
But despite conceding to Franco Brienza’s consolation goal on the stroke of full-time, Inter were rewarded for a dominant display to claim a 16th win that moved them up to fourth at two points behind Roma, who occupy the third and last Champions League qualifying spot ahead of their trip to Udinese on Sunday.
Fiorentina will reclaim fourth spot if they beat basement side Verona, but in the meantime Inter coach Roberto Mancini was left lamenting his side’s masochistic tendencies.
“I’m satisfied, because Bologna hadn’t conceded in three games. But we like to suffer right to the end,” he told Mediaset. “We did well again in the second half, but we can’t be gifting late goals like we did.”
Inter, whose last Champions League appearance was in 2012 when they lost to Marseille in the last 16, suffered a blow in the opening minutes when striker Mauro Icardi was forced off after twisting his knee while trying to reach Eder’s angled strike towards the back post.
He is now doubtful for next week’s trip to Roma, where second-half substitute Rodrigo Palacio will be missing after picking up a caution that sparked a one-match ban. But Icardi’s absence did not overly curtail the hosts and the inspiring Perisic nodded the hosts into a 72nd minute lead following D’Ambrosio’s knock-on from a corner.
D’Ambrosio’s cool volley four minutes later looked to have wrapped up the points but Bologna ensured a nervous finish when Luca Rizzo pounced on Geoffrey Kondogbia’s poor backpass to Juan Jesus to help set up Brienza for a last gasp strike.
Roberto Donadoni refused to criticise Bologna but said: “Inter are a very physical side, and if you’re not careful they punish you as they did on their two goal chances.”
Mancini adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation but was forced to tinker after French midfielder Kondogbia replaced Icardi on nine minutes.
Bologna created little in the opening period although Godfred Donsah spurned a great chance on the quarter hour when he fired wide with the goal at his mercy.
Antonio Mirante was by far the busiest of the two keepers and blocked attempts from Eder and then Adem Ljajic, before being kept on his toes just before the interval when Joao Miranda attemped a cheeky flick on Marcelo Brozovic’s weighted ball following a corner.
Moments later Mirante got down low to smother Yuto Nagatomo’s attempted cross after the Japanese left-back got deep, and at another corner came out to tip the ball to safety as Miranda rose to head.
It took until just after the hour for Inter to threaten again, but after cutting in from the right side Perisic’s curler was wide of the far post.
Minutes later Emanuele Giaccherini broke through the middle for Bologna but failed to outpace Gary Medel, who bundled the striker off the ball.
Mancini was getting frisky and with 20 minutes left on the clock replaced Ljajic with Palacio.
Two minutes later Perisic was rewarded for his night’s work, the stylish Croatian nodding into a virtually empty net from D’Ambrosio’s header following a corner.
Inter could have had their second when Palacio outmuscled his marker to set Perisic on a run down the left, but Eder narrowly failed to make contact from close range.
But the hosts doubled their lead on 76 minutes when D’Ambrosio, left unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, calmly volleyed past Mirante and into the top of the net.
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