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Inter squeeze past Salzburg to move top of Champions League Group D

Inter players celebrate after beating Red Bull Salzburg. Photo: Marco Bertorello / AFP

Inter took provisional lead of Champions League Group D on Tuesday after winning a tough contest with Salzburg 2-1 at a packed San Siro.

Goals in each half from Alexis Sanchez and Hakan Calhanoglu were enough for Inter to move up to seven points, three ahead of Real Sociedad who are at bottom side Benfica later on Tuesday.

Simone Inzaghi’s side were good value for their win but were made to sweat for the three points as Salzburg caused the hosts problems and were briefly level when Israeli teenager Oscar Gloukh stroked home a classy finish in the 57th minute.

“There wasn’t really any sign that they might equalise because apart from the first 15 minutes we didn’t feel in danger,” Inzaghi told reporters.

“But we stayed in the game, went close and then ahead. That’s obviously a very positive sign.”

A four-point gap between Inter and third-placed Salzburg makes qualification for the knockout stages more likely regardless of how Sociedad do in Portugal.

The two team’s face off in Austria in a fortnight in a match which will have a huge say on both teams’ chances of reaching the last 16.

“Inter are a great side, we did well to not be overawed by the atmosphere here at the San Siro. the boys demonstrated from first to last minute their worth against a really good team,” said Salzburg coach Gerhard Struber.

“Our performance will push us forward to keep playing our own game, what we showed tonight. We’re a young team which needs to gain a bit of experience.”

Sanchez’s finish also cheered Inzaghi as it showed he can drop one of star strike pairing Lautaro Martinez and Marcus Thuram without losing goal threat.

The Chile forward was a surprise pick in place of Thuram from Inzaghi, who also dropped star left-back Federico Dimarco and Nicolo Barella to the bench with a big Serie A clash with Roma coming up at the weekend.

“We all know about Sanchez, he’s a player fully capable of playing like he did tonight and who can score on any occasion,” Inzaghi added. 

“I’m happy he scored tonight because it’s a reward for all the work he puts in every day at Appiano (Gentile, Inter’s training centre).”

Inter triumph

Salzburg had if anything had the better of the play in the early stages but Sanchez pounced on Inter’s first real chance of the game to put the hosts ahead in the 19th minute.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan tried to feed Davide Frattesi who had made a burst into the box but his misplaced pass instead found Sanchez, who calmly stroked home his first Inter goal since returning from Marseille.

Sanchez, 34, is now the highest scoring Chilean in Champions League history with 16 goals.

That goal took the wind out of Salzburg’s sails and Inter pressed for a second, but the closest they came in the first half was in the 32nd minute when Denzel Dumfries’ cross was almost turned in by Amar Dedic.

Inter almost doubled their lead in the 56th minute when Carlos Augusto flashed just wide but seconds later Gloukh drew Salzburg level with a brilliant first-time finish reminiscent of Sanchez’s opener after good play from Roko Simic and Maurits Kjaergaard.

However Inter responded and were soon back in the lead when Lucas Gourna-Douath and Strahinja Pavlovic clumsily bundled over Frattesi and referee Francois Letexier quickly pointed to the penalty spot.

Calhanoglu made no mistake with his spot-kick, rifling home what turned out to be the winning goal to the right of Alexander Schlager.

Lautaro Martinez thought he had sealed the points for Inter in the 81st minute, but the strike was ruled out, Frattesi straying offside before flashing a low cross for the Argentina forward.

Salzburg pushed for a leveller but Inter held out for a win which will boost their chances of another deep run in the competition.

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