Inter Milan have qualified for the UEFA Champions League with a crazy 2-1 win over Empoli on the final day of the Serie A season
The hosts were frustrated throughout the first period as Empoli stopper Bartłomiej Drągowski produced a string of excellent saves. He was unable to halt Inter’s opener though as Keita Balde Diao fired in after being introduced off of the bench. Mauro Icardi could have doubled the lead from the spot but his penalty was saved by the Empoli stopper.
Hamed Junior Traorè equalised for the visitors as he tucked in at the back post, only for Radja Nainggolan to steal a late winner to fire Inter back into elite European competition and Empoli into Serie B. They thought they had a third as Marcelo Brozovic also found the net but VAR ruled it out before Balde was sent off for two bookable offences.
Early Inter dominance
It was the hosts who enjoyed the majority of the play throughout the opening stages. Midfielder Nainggolan had the first effort at goal but could only force goalkeeper Drągowski into a comfortable save. Mauro Icardi then also went close as he managed to turn and fire a low shot towards the Empoli net but the ball flew wide.
The most spectacular try of the opening period though came from Brozovic. The Croatian midfielder let fly from outside the area, with the ball looking like it was nestling into the back of the net. However, Dragoswki was alive once again tip it away.
Dragowski on top form but sub Balde strikes first
The Polish stopper was on top form throughout the game to frustrate Luciano Spalletti’s men. Stefan de Vrij was the next to force an excellent stop out of the keeper as he got free from a corner. Kwadwo Asamoah then also took up the mantle but again could not beat Dragowski as the first-half at the San Siro drew to a close.
Spalletti elected to make a change at the break as he introduced Keita Balde and the Senegal forward made an instant impact with a brilliant opener. He weaved through the Empoli defence and cracked in an excellent low shot that thundered into the bottom corner.
Icardi passes up chance from the spot
The Nerazzurri then had a wonderful chance to double their priceless advantage from the spot as Icardi was hauled down in the area by Dragowski. The duo were indeed foes from the spot but it was the stopper who came out on top to deny the Argentine.
That missed opportunity came back to bite Inter though as Empoli roared back. Samir Handanovic at first had to hold firm to deny Diego Farias. However, he stood no chance as they carved out yet another opportunity. Salih Ucan drove in a teasing low ball to locate Traore at the back post, with the latter having an easy job of steering home into the unguarded net.
Inter claim vital winner
The visitors were not level for long though. Just as Balde had done at the beginning of the half, Matías Vecino charged towards goal and his low shot looked to be rolling into the bottom corner. It deflected off of the post to came straight back to Nainggolan and he tucked the ball into the net.
That was not the end of the drama though as Danilo D’Ambrosio produced a stunning bit of defending to deflect a golden Empoli chance onto the woodwork. Brozovic also thought he had sealed the game once and for all but had his strike ruled out. Balde was then sent off for picking up a second bookable offence but it mattered not as Inter held out to confirm their victory and a place in the Champions League.
A truly barmy final day of the Serie A season. Both teams really were not fazed by heading into the final day with everything to play for and as a result played some stunning football. Empoli, whilst unfortunately relegated from Serie A, will feel bitterly disappointed having put on an excellent performance at the San Siro. Inter meanwhile, have to also be praised for grinding out a result that gives them just what they were targeting; UEFA Champions League football.
Inter Milan: Handanovic (8); Asamoah (6) (Balde (7), 46′), Skriniar (6), de Vrij (7), D’Ambrosio (7); Brozovic (6), Vecino (7); Perisic (7) (Dalbert (6), 74′), Nainggolan (7), Politano (6); Icardi (5) (Martinez (5), 71′).
Empoli: Dragowski (8); Dell’Orco (6), Silvestre (6), Maietta (5) (Ucan (6), 71′); Bennacer (6); Pajac (6), Traore (7), Acquah (6) (Brighi (6), 71′), Di Lorenzo (6); Caputo (6), Farias (7).
Goals: Balde (51′), Traore (76′), Nainggolan (81′)
Referee: Luca Banti
Yellow Cards: Balde (52′, 90+7′), Pajac (64′), Perisic (72′)
Red Cards: Balde (90+7′)
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