Inter secured a comfortable 2-0 victory over Ludogorets in the first leg of their Europa League Round of 32 tie, with Christian Eriksen opening his Nerazzurri account and Romelu Lukaku adding a late penalty.
It certainly wasn’t easy for Antonio Conte’s side, as their lumbering first half performance wasn’t what Nerazzurri fans were hoping for after back-to-back defeats, but with the return leg set for the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza next Thursday, only an almighty collapse would knock them out of the competition at this point.
Eriksen looked much improved after the restart, and it was his 70th minute strike that looked to be the difference before Lukaku stepped up in injury time to calmly slot home from the penalty spot to give Inter two crucial away goals.
The Nerazzurri nearly got off to the perfect start when Cristiano Biraghi got on the end of a Victor Moses cross, but Cicinho did enough to deflect it out.
From there the tempo dipped dramatically, though that didn’t stop Lautaro Martinez from showing some aggression. Unfortunately for him an ill-timed tackle on Georgi Terziev earned him a booking, meaning he is now suspended for the second leg.
Plamen Iliev did well to stop a Biraghi effort from close range after the left wing-back got on the end of another Moses cross.
Eriksen was rarely seen in the first half, and his only real contribution came before the end of the half when he was too slow in firing on goal after chesting down an Alexis Sanchez cross.
Inter ramped up the intensity after the restart, and it was Sanchez who nearly broke the deadlock. The Chilean got on the end of a Moses cross and back heeled an effort on goal, only for Iliev to get enough of it and push it onto the post.
The surge forward continued in the 63rd minute when Eriksen fired a first-time volley on goal from just outside the box, only for Iliev to make a fine diving save to keep it 0-0.
With Inter firmly in control the breakthrough finally came in the 70th minute. Some fine passing eventually saw Lukaku, who had only just come on for Lautaro, lay the ball off for Eriksen, and he made no mistake in firing into the bottom corner from the edge of the box for his first goal with the Nerazzurri.
The Dane nearly doubled his tally minutes later with a stunning left-footed strike from distance that shook the crossbar.
Just when the scoreline looked settled, a late penalty altered not only the match, but perhaps the tie as Anicet Abel was booked for a handball in the penalty area after an Inter corner.
Not only does it mean Anicet misses out on the second leg through suspension, but it may have ended any hopes the Bulgarian side had of progressing as Lukaku stepped up to fire home and give the Nerazzurri a healthy advantage ahead of the second leg.