Lautaro Martinez and Antonio Candreva on Wednesday scored in either half to boost Inter’s UEFA Champions League last-16 hopes with a 2-0 win over Group F rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Argentina forward Martinez continued his fine form scoring after 22 minutes in the San Siro, but missed a chance for a second from a penalty spot eight minutes from time.
Candreva sealed the three points a minute from time to move Antonio Conte’s side off the bottom of Group F, having fallen 2-1 to Barcelona and being held 1-1 by Slavia Prague.
Inter join Dortmund on four points, while Barcelona top the table with seven points from three games.
“We knew we had our backs to the wall after picking up just one point before tonight,” Conte said. “This victory extends our expectation of qualification in a very, very difficult group. I’m happy especially for my players. They went to great lengths to earn a place in the Champions League last season and to experience these kinds of matches, with the full stadium and the tifosi. It is now about making sure that we get the result we need in Dortmund. Barcelona and Dortmund are favorites in this group, but it’s up to us now.”
Stefan de Vrij sent the ball through for Martinez in the opening 30 minutes with the Argentine beating the offside trap as well as goalkeeper Roman Burki from close range.
The 22-year-old’s goal, his second consecutive in the Champions League after scoring against Barcelona and fifth in four games for Inter, was confirmed by the video assistant referee.
Inter could thank captain Samir Handanovic for keeping their advantage into the break with the goalkeeper diving low to clear an angled drive by Jadon Sancho.
Conte gave 17-year-old Sebastiano Esposito his Champions League debut, coming on after an hour in place of Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku, who struggled to make an impact.
With Alexis Sanchez injured, Esposito has stayed in Milan instead of playing for Italy in the U-17 World Cup in Brazil. He became the youngest Inter player to make his Champions League debut after also becoming the youngest to start in the Europa League last season.
The teenager was impressive, forcing a foul from Dortmund’s Mats Hummels to the delight of the 60,000 fans at the San Siro.
Burki denied Martinez a brace from the spot, but Candreva powered forward with a minute of normal time to play to seal victory with his fifth European goal, leaving Burki with no chance.
“I’ve said before in interviews and in the dressing room that I’d be crazy to keep a 17-year-old if I didn’t trust him,” Conte said. “He’s an important player for us and I am sorry he wasn’t able to go on the U-17 World Cup for Italy, but we really do need him and he proved it tonight.”
Dortmund fell to their first defeat of the campaign after a 2-0 win over Slavia and holding Barcelona to a goalless draw.
“We didn’t have a lot of chances, but played well,” Dortmund coach Lucien Favre said. “We went in at the break a goal down, then had a couple of chances before they made it 2-0. We should have done better with those chances. It is a difficult group, but everything is still possible.”