Rodrigo Palacio scored a brace as Inter inched closer to Serie A’s Champions League qualification places on Wednesday with a precious 2-0 win away to UC Sampdoria.
Four days after a 2-1 defeat at home to leaders Juventus left them in seventh place, Inter were desperate to make amends in a fixture that was originally postponed on March 17 due to adverse weather in Genoa.
However, Andrea Stramaccioni’s side were bossed for long periods in the first half before taking the lead through Palacio’s 43rd minute header.
Palacio then brightened up an insipid performance from both sides in the second half with a fine individual effort 3 minutes into injury time to help push Inter up to fifth on 50 points — seven short of third-placed Milan in the final Champions League qualifying spot.
“It’s a big step forward,” Stramaccioni told Sky Sport Italia. “Especially against a side which, at home, has put a lot of teams in difficulty. It’s crucial for us to find a bit more consistency.”
Despite welcoming Juan Jesus back from suspension, the Nerazzurri were without Argentine midfielder Esteban Cambiasso after he received a one-game ban following the match against Juve on Saturday last week.
Sampdoria had the lion’s share of goalscoring chances in the first half, but Inter transfer target Mauro Icardi came closest, the 20-year-old Argentine forcing a fine parry from Samir Handanovic following Gianluca Sansone’s corner.
Handanovic then had to look lively to keep Nenad Krsticic’s strike from finding the top corner just after the half hour.
Inter defender Jonathan came close to gifting Sampdoria a goal when he slipped twice inside the penalty area, but despite Icardi’s best efforts, he failed to capitalize.
Although Sampdoria were dominating, the hosts’ defense was found wanting two minutes before the break when Palacio ghosted between the center-backs to meet Alvaro Pereira’s cross and beat Sergio Romero with a glancing header.
Sampdoria still had time to create a pair of chances before halftime through Andrea Poli and Marcelo Estigarribia, while a Palacio shot from a tight angle flashed across the face of goal on the stroke of halftime.
Sampdoria picked up where they had left off, with Sansone’s angled drive forcing Handanovic into action minutes after the restart.
However, the momentum the hosts had created was slowing and there were few real chances for either side after the break.
Stramaccioni replaced striker Antonio Cassano, a former Sampdoria player, with Serbian midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic on 67 minutes.
Whether that was designed to stem Samp’s offensives or not, it coincided with a total lack of creativity from the hosts, who were confined to testing Handanovic with a couple of long-range efforts late in the game.
Sampdoria looked fatigued and in the dying minutes were put to the sword when Palacio produced some fine individual skill to hold off two defenders before coolly slotting the ball under Romero for his 12th goal of the campaign.
“It was crucial for us to get back to winning ways,” said Palacio, who signed for Inter last year from Sampdoria’s city rivals Genoa.