CSKA Moscow sneaked into the Champions League knockout stages as Vasili Berezutski scored three minutes from time to give the Russians a 2-1 victory at Inter on Wednesday.
Ivory Coast striker Seydou Doumbia had given the visitors the lead, before Esteban Cambiasso equalized, but Berezutski had the last word to send the Russians into the round-of-16 for only the second time.
The hosts had already won the group, but the defeat, coupled with a 1-0 home loss to Udinese at the weekend, will have increased the pressure on coach Claudio Ranieri with his side down in 16th in Serie A.
Ranieri insisted that the defeat was not a disaster.
“I have to point out that we achieved our qualification with a game to spare, so I’m very happy,” he said. “Tonight, we created five or six chances, but they had some good chances too. At the moment it’s going like this, but I can’t reproach the team for their desire and application. We have to be patient in this time, but we fought to the end, it’s just results aren’t going well, the ball didn’t want to go in for [Diego] Milito. When you win and you have self-confidence things seem easier, but now we’re having mental difficulties because we’re fighting, but we’re still going home with a defeat and that doesn’t help.”
CSKA were playing a high defensive line and a dangerous offside game in the early stages and they were almost made to pay.
Captain Javier Zanetti played in Milito behind the defense and although he had two options to pick out, he failed to draw Vladimir Gabulov and left his pass to Coutinho a bit too short, allowing the goalkeeper to pounce and cut it out.
Moments later, Milito was again wheeling off the last man and this time he picked out Yuto Nagatomo, but the Japan fullback’s finish was weak and Gabulov saved easily.
CSKA’s first really good chance came just before the half-hour mark when Vagner Love turned outside the box and fired goalward, but Luca Castellazzi made a flying save.
The Brazilian striker then missed a glaring chance when he got to Alan Dzagoev’s teasing free-kick first and headed over from close range.
Nagatomo was proving dangerous when coming forward and Gabulov leapt to his right to tip the diminutive fullback’s shot from distance around the post, although television replays suggested it was heading wide anyway.
Milito continued to make a nuisance of himself and had a pair of chances in quick succession, Gabulov blocking his first and the Argentine firing the second centimeters over the bar.
The second period started with a bang as both sides scored within six minutes of the restart.
Love set up Ivorian strike partner Doumbia to finish clinically past Castellazzi, but just a minute later Andrea Ranocchias headed a corner powerfully goalward and although Gabulov made a one-handed save, Cambiasso mopped up the rebound from close range.
Castellazzi then saved at his near post from Dzagoev, while a Milito header bounced into Gabulov’s arms.
A lovely CSKA free-kick routine then saw Aleksei Berezutski volley goalward, but Castellazzi made a comfortable save.
Five minutes from time, Milito should have snatched the winner after Zanetti’s fine run and cross, but he somehow hit the bar with a header from inside the six-yard box and they were made to pay moments later when Vasili Berezutski headed home a corner to give the visitors victory.