STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan) – A crazy match at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza ended with Inter beating Empoli 2-1 and securing Champions League football for next season.
Substitute Keita Balde looked to have settled the nerves of the Nerazzurri fans with a goal early in the second half, but Hamed Junior Traore equalised with 14 minutes left to play.
Then Radja Nainggolan bagged the winner with nine minutes left, tapping in after Matias Vecino hit the post. In the final moments Keita was sent off.
That means Inter will be in the Champions League next season, finishing one point ahead of city rivals AC Milan, as Atalanta secured third.
It was an electric atmosphere in the Stadio Meazza and Bartlomiej Dragowski was called into action early, saving from Radja Nainggolan.
Inter flooded forward at every opportunity and Ivan Perisic forced another excellent save from the Empoli goalkeeper.
After pinning the away side in their own half for the opening half hour, Empoli surged towards Samir Handanovic she stood tall to block Francesco Caputo’s angled strike.
Then moments later Hamed Junior Traore just curled an effort just wide from inside the penalty area.
Dragowski made possibly the save of the season as Stefan De Vrij leapt above the Empoli defence and the Pole clawed the ball out from under the crossbar.
Kwadwo Asaomoah tried his luck from 35 yards, but was denied by another acrobatic save from Dragoqski.
A change at half time saw Keita come on for Asamoah and almost immediately made the difference as he bore down on goal but his cross was cut out by Domenico Maietta.
However, the Senegalese forward got on the scoresheet moments later, firing low past Dragowski to send the Meazza wild.
Mauro Icardi was then brought down by Dragowski and referee Luca Banti immediately pointed to the spot. The ex-Inter captain stepped up but the Empoli goalkeeper made the save.
Empoli should have made it 1-1 when Diego Farias was played in on goal, but as he tried to round Handanovic, the big Slovenian stretched out a hand and grabbed the ball from his feet.
As Inter tried to sit on their lead, Empoli pounced with a stunning counter attack, as Salih Ucan strode down the right and fired a low cross which found Traore unmarked at the back post for a simple tap in.
Things weren’t finished there as Nainggolan was in the right place at the right time, as first Matias Vecino hit the post and the ball fell into the path of the Belgian who side-footed into the empty net.
Empoli hit the bar in the final moments after Caputo was again put in on goals and his shot was saved by Handanovic, but the ball fell to Traore who couldn’t find the back of the net.
Both goalkeeper saved their respective sides in time added on, as Handanovic denied Ucan, then Keita hit straight at Dragowski when in on goal.
But in the final moments, the Empoli goalkeeper went up for a corner, and was caught in the opposite half when Brozovic scored from the halfway line but it was ruled out by VAR.
They are called that for a reason and it was another crazy night at the Meazza! In then, then back in, then saved by Handanovic, it was typical Inter. A crazy atmosphere as a 60,000+ crowd roared their team on, and just as it looked like Empoli were going to secure safety for themselves and condemn Inter to the Europa League, up popped Nainggolan to send the Nerazzurri fans wild. They clung on, just, and definitely have their goalkeeper to thank, so made three game saving stops at the death.
CLOSE BUT NOT CLOSE ENOUGH
Emotions were the opposite for Empoli, who battled hard and were 14 minutes away from securing a place in Serie A next season. Dragowski was brilliant, and produced a string of wondersaves to deny Inter, even stopping a penalty. It was all in vein as a lapse at the back cost the Azzurri, in addition to poor decisions at the other end.