A late Christian Eriksen goal in a 1-0 win kept Tottenham Hotspur’s Champions League dreams alive and put Inter’s hopes of punching their knockout phase ticket on hold at Wembley Stadium.
In the first meeting between the teams at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, the Dane had netted for his side before Inter produced their customary late heroics in the competition this season, although they were given a taste of their own medicine on a cold November’s night in London due to Eriksen’s 80th minute winner.
Inter entered the game in the knowledge that avoiding defeat would be enough to seal their place in the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time since the 2011/12 campaign and although they didn’t set up solely to contain, they offered little as an offensive threat for much of the first half.
For too much of that period, the Nerazzurri were wasteful in possession, leading to direct and aimless balls in the direction of a hard-working yet frustrated Mauro Icardi.
In fact, it was on Inter’s forays forward that Spurs created their best opportunities, due to their quickness on the counter-attack, with the first such opportunity arriving when Radja Nainggolan lost possession (a familiar theme that led to his benching before the break) on the edge of the area and Harry Kane led an assault on the defence that ended with Dele Alli blasting over.
On the half hour mark, it was another piece of slack play in the final third from Inter which created a Tottenham chance with Kwadwo Asamoah the guilty party this time, leading to a lung-bursting Moussa Sissoko run and pass for Lucas Moura, who curled straight at Samir Handanovic.
The closest either side came to a goal in a scoreless first frame arrived on 38 minutes when a patient Spurs build-up ended in Harry Winks firing against the crossbar, while the best Inter opening came in added time when substitute Borja Valero hesitated in the area as he seemed set to pounce for the opener.
Inter had been beaten on three of their last four visits to England, spanning four different cities, and scored just twice in that period but were improved after the interval and the likely stern Luciano Spalletti team talk that went with it.
A poor pass from Icardi ended their hopes of the all important goal on what appeared to be a promising break, while Milan Skriniar came within inches of connecting with a delicious deep Ivan Perisic cross to the back post.
In similar circumstances at the other end with 20 minutes remaining, a centre-back popped up at the far post and this time he really should have scored, only for the returning Jan Vertonghen to send his header the wrong side of the post.
Some delightful interplay between Valero and Perisic almost led to the opener only for a strong Hugo Lloris hand to keep out the Croatian and that save proved all the more important with 10 minutes remaining when the goalkeeper’s side hit the front.
The Londoners broke dangerously down the right flank and when Inter’s defence failed to put in the crucial tackle, they were made to pay for it as Alli picked out substitute Eriksen to fire in with aplomb, leaving Luciano Spalletti’s men with work to do when they welcome PSV to Italy next month.
There’s no doubt that when the Belgian is at his best, he is a key man for Inter (as the results both with and without him in the side have shown) but he was either not fully fit following his recent injury woes or aggravated the issue or a combination of both. He was meek, poor in possession and rarely involved before being called ashore before half-time.
For much of the game, Inter looked like they would secure the point they needed and perhaps deserved. But Eriksen’s strike now makes things interesting with one game left. Spurs go into the final matchday in second, although the sides are level on points, goal difference and head-to-head record.
Inter face a PSV side at home who are already out and have no chance of securing Europa League football, while Tottenham travel to face a Barcelona side who are already assured of top spot and although their task does appear a more difficult one, it represents a massive missed chance for the Biscione to put the group to bed.