Inter close in on Champions League knockout rounds

Inter Milan took a huge step towards qualifying for the Champions League knockout rounds with a 2-1 victory over French champions Lille at the San Siro on Wednesday.

Updated: November 03, 2011 10:55 IST
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Milan: Inter Milan took a huge step towards qualifying for the Champions League knockout rounds with a 2-1 victory over French champions Lille at the San Siro here on Wednesday.

The victory kept the troubled Italians top of Group B, knowing that another victory will assure them of qualification.

Argentine pair Walter Samuel, with a header, and Diego Milito, from close range, scored the goals that ensured Inter have won more games in the Champions League than they have in Serie A this season.

Following a long dry period of poor form, Milito admitted he was relieved to finally get a goal.

"I've unblocked this run. This was a period in which I didn't manage to find a goal," he told SkySport.

"I was also a bit unlucky with the first effort that hit the bar, but at last I managed to score this goal that gives me tranquility.

"It's in your head, you worry, it plays with you on the pitch. I tried to stay calm and give my maximum.

"It's an important game for us after the defeat (by Juventus) on Saturday. We're straight back to winning ways."

Inter coach Claudio Ranieri paid tribute to both his team and Milito's fighting spirit.

"All (wins) are important, because we've only had a few of them," joked Ranieri. "We've won three times in the Champions League so it's very important because we want to do well.

"This team has the grit and determination to stay the course, we've got great sensations and we're not finished, but we have to prove it game after game.

"(Milito) fights, he runs, there are times that things don't go well but he's the emblem of the team and the fans. He wanted to fight and react and finally he managed to score."

Tulio De Melo scored for Lille, who now probably need to win both their remaining games if they are to progress.

Inter almost got off to a dream start as Lille's defence was caught napping and Milito ran clear onto a ball over the top but his chip over goalkeeper Mickael Landreau came back off the bar.

That was a rare moment of excitement in a mostly drab first 45 minutes.

Most of Lille's best work came from Englishman Joe Cole, who tricked and turned Samuel before sending a whipped cross into the box, but Moussa Sow could not capitalise.

On 18 minutes Mauro Zarate burrowed into the box and got off a shot that squirmed under Landreau but trickled narrowly wide.

Yet from the resulting corner, Samuel outjumped Rio Mavuba and powered home an unstoppable header.

Lille were offering little going forward but highly coveted Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard's bouncing shot almost caught out Luca Castellazzi, who pushed it away.

Dejan Stankovic got on the end of a Wesley Sneijder free-kick and headed it back into the middle of the goal where Milito, six yards out, had a simple tap-in, only to volley the ball well over the bar.

He had missed a similar sitter a week ago in a 1-1 draw at Atalanta, although that time he was only a couple of yards from the line.

Moments later he scampered clear of the backline and with just Landreau to beat his finish was weak, lacking in conviction and too close to the goalkeeper.

Lille almost made him and Inter pay but David Rozehnal blazed a half-volley over the bar.

On 65 minutes, inspirational captain Javier Zanetti slalomed through the Lille defence and crossed for Milito, who as ever was in the right place at the right time, and this time from six yards out and with an open goal, he found the net.

Hazard kept Castellazzi on his toes with a free-kick from 25 yards that the goalkeeper pushed behind.

Seven minutes from time Stankovic and Lucio got in each other's way on the edge of their own box, allowing the ball to run through to De Melo, who dinked a simple finish over Castellazzi.

But there was to be no grandstand finish as Inter held out.

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