Milan, Dec 8: A late winner from Vasili Berezutsk earned CSKA Moscow a 2-1 victory at Inter Milan on Wednesday and a place alongside the home team in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Seydou Doumbia gave CSKA the lead in the 50th minute following a smart one-two with Vagner Love. However, Inter was back on level terms immediately when Esteban Cambiasso fired into an empty net.
Knowing it needed a victory to have any chance of progressing, CSKA pressed for a winner and its hard work paid off four minutes from time when Berezutski headed home.
Moments before Diego Milito had seen an effort crash off the crossbar and onto the line before going out.
CSKA went through as the Group B runner-up after Lille and Trabzonspor played to a goalless draw.
“Our movement was really good and better than theirs but I think the decisive moment was Milito's miss,” CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky said. “I believed we could win but I didn't really believe Lille would draw with Trabzonspor so I'm very happy.
“The remaining teams in the Champions League are all teams of a very high level and it's hard to pick one out to avoid, but if I had to choose I'd pick Real Madrid.”
It was Inter's second home defeat on the trot following the 1-0 loss to Udinese in Serie A at the weekend.
Though the team looks nothing like the side that won a treble and the Club World Cup last year, coach Claudio Ranieri remains positive.
“We lost but I'm happy with the display,” Ranieri said. “Apart from the result, the game was pleasing. Credit to CSKA and well done for progressing. But we made them work for it and could have won. I'm happy with how we played.”
Looking ahead, Ranieri is clearly looking for an improvement from his men in the months ahead.
“I don't care who we meet in the next round, they're all good teams,” he said. “We have to improve a lot because we know that the Champions League isn't a joke. We have to take giant steps between now and February.”
Milito also looks nothing like the forward who bagged 30 goals in Inter's treble-winning season. The Argentine has netted just four times this season, and has missed countless glaring opportunities. He again cut a despondent figure on the pitch on Wednesday.
“It happens to everyone and I hope he passes this dry spell soon,” Ranieri said. “It's incredible how he can't score. The goal seems bewitched. Maybe Milito needs to go on a pilgrimage! He's not too happy obviously but he knows it will pass soon.”
With Inter already qualified, Ranieri opted to rest Giampaolo Pazzini and Milito started on his own up front.
CSKA had the best of the opening exchanges and could have taken an early lead as Sekou Oliseh stole the ball off Cristian Chivu before crossing in to Doumbia whose effort was deflected to safety.
The Russian outfit had another good opportunity seconds later as Alan Dzagoev found Doumbia but the Inter defense scrambled the ball clear.
Inter slowly began to settle into its stride. Milito did well in the 10th minute when he beat the offside trap and raced into area only to slot a pass towards Coutinho that was just too short and CSKA goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov managed to snatch it off the feet of the Brazilian midfielder.
Gabulov did well again moments later to keep out Yuto Nagatomo's close-range shot after the Japanese defender had been sent clear by Milito.
CSKA had its first shot on target on the half-hour mark but Inter goalkeeper Luca Castellazzi kept out Vagner Love's effort at full stretch.
The visitors' best chance of the half came in the 35th minute when Vagner Love headed over Dzagoev's free-kick from three yards out.
Milito should have given Inter the lead right on halftime with a powerful right-footed shot from just outside the area, which skimmed the top of the crossbar.
CSKA took the lead five minutes into the second half as Doumbia raced into the area and fired into the bottom left corner following a one-two with Vagner Love. It was Doumbia's fifth Champions League goal in five games this season.
Inter was back on level terms seconds later. Gabulov parried Andrea Ranocchia's header but the ball fell to Cambiasso who slotted it into an empty net from point blank range.
Inter should have gone in front five minutes from full time following a good piece of play from Javier Zanetti. The Inter captain raced down the right and into the box before rounding a CSKA defender and crossing to Milito whose close-range header crashed off the crossbar and down onto the line.
The Russian side grabbed the goal it needed seconds later when Berezutski jumped highest in the area to head a corner past the outstretched hand of a diving Castellazzi.