Inter progressed to the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Cagliari at San Siro on Tuesday.
The Serie A leaders, who were beaten 4-1 by Cagliari in Milan last season, secured safe passage to the next stage thanks to a first-half goal from Rodrigo Palacio and efforts from Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic in the second period.
It was not an easy night for Roberto Mancini’s team against a side they had beaten just once in their previous eight meetings, and the Sardinians – who sit second in Serie B – pushed hard for a route back into the game after the interval and almost found an equaliser when Fabio Pisacane’s header struck a post just after half-time.
Inter remained resolute, though, scoring twice in the final half-hour to book a last-eight tie with Napoli or Verona.
After a difficult opening 10 minutes, during which Cagliari enjoyed the better of the territory and the possession, the home side settled and Geoffrey Kondogbia tested visiting goalkeeper Alessio Cragno from 25 yards in the 13th minute.
Cragno had to be quick off his line to keep out Jonathan Biabiany’s effort at the end of a tidy Brozovic throughball moments later, and the 21-year-old produced a terrific save high to his left to deny Palacio, who met Biabiany’s right-wing cross with a flying header in the 19th minute.
The opening goal was not far away, though, and Inter took the lead five minutes later. Juan Jesus crossed from the left and, when Rey Manaj drew a marker at the near post, Palacio was presented with the simplest of tap-ins from six yards out.
Given Inter’s remarkable defensive record at San Siro this term – Mancini’s side have not conceded at home since September 27 – the task in front of Cagliari was substantial.
However, the visitors came close to levelling the tie just after the half-hour mark, when Niccolo Giannetti seized on a pass into the box to bring a fine save out of Juan Pablo Carrizo, low to his right.
Manaj and Brozovic both tested Cragno early in the second half as Inter raced out of the traps, but Cagliari came within the width of a post of equalising in the 51st minute as Pisacane’s flicked header from Davide Di Gennaro’s right-wing free-kick bounced to safety off the frame of the goal.
Cragno was Cagliari’s saviour again in the 64th minute, flinging himself at the feet of Manaj to prevent the Inter striker doubling his side’s lead, but he could do little to keep out the hosts’ second with 19 minutes remaining.
Brozovic cut in from the left and his 20-yard strike appeared to take a slight deflection before beating Cragno to his left-hand corner.
And with nine minutes left, Inter scored a third. Brozovic’s shot from the edge of the box rebounded off the frame of the goal and substitute Perisic was on hand to tuck home his third goal of the campaign.