Simone Inzaghi’s side had looked the better team for large stretches of the encounter at the Stadio San Siro but lacked cutting edge, and were duly punished by a Rodrygo effort just two minutes from time.
Despite lifting the Serie A title last season, Inter have begun another European campaign in inauspicious circumstances and they have recorded just five Champions League wins from their last 19 matches, going back to 2018.
The Nerazzurri endured a miserable Champions League campaign last season, being dumped out in the Group Stage and not even securing the consolation of a Europa League entry after finishing bottom.
It began with a costly 2-2 draw against Borussia Monchengladbach and Inter failed to win any of their first four games, including home and away defeats to Wednesday’s opponents Real Madrid, with Rodrygo netting a late winner in that match in Spain.
Whilst Antonio Conte was able to turn his attention to Serie A and sweep up the Scudetto, Inter cannot afford another abject failure in Europe and a strong showing on opening night was imperative.
Inter were the better side in the first half and showed their attacking intent with good opportunities for Lautaro Martinez, Edin Dzeko, and Marcelo Brozovic. Better finishing would have secured a comfortable lead, particularly as Milan Skriniar was at his solid best in defence and Real Madrid were limited to an Eder Militao header from a corner.
Yet despite this, Inzaghi’s side failed to put their opponents to the sword and were duly punished late on as the scourge of last year’s campaign, Rodrygo, found a late winner.
In a match of few clear chances, Inter were undone by a rare effort on target and leave the San Siro knowing that an opportunity to set an early marker was lost.
Whilst Real Madrid will undoubtedly be the sternest test in a group containing Shakhtar Donetsk and Moldovan debutants Sheriff Tiraspol, such a gut-wrenching defeat may cast doubts into the Nerazzurri’s minds after last season’s disastrous performances.
After Sunday’s disappointing 2-2 draw against Sampdoria in Serie A and heartbreak in Europe, Inter must turn their attention back to domestic matters and ensure they regain their form against Bologna this weekend, before clashes against Fiorentina and Atalanta.
A trip to Kharkiv to face Shakhtar follows and Inzaghi knows his side cannot afford the complacency of last season if they are to make any form of progress in the Champions League.