Inter 2-1 Cesena: Zarate winner fires Nerazzurri level on points with Roma and Napoli as race for third intensifies

Jeremy Lim
Zarate open to Lazio return

Inter picked up a 2-1 win against relegated Cesena at San Siro to open up the race to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Inter recalled Giampaolo Pazzini to the starting lineup as Andrea Stramaccioni rested Diego Milito, while Cesena welcomed Adrian Mutu and Vincenzo Iaquinta back.

The early stages proved to be one-way traffic for the home side. Inter’s first chance of the match arrived in the third minute, when Maicon picked up a loose ball to find Pazzini in the box, only for the Italian international to miscue his volley, allowing Francesco Antonioli to gather comfortably. Fredy Guarin followed that up with a curling shot from outside the box that the keeper subsequently gathered comfortably.

Cesena’s Mario Santana did get away a left-footed strike that fell straight to Inter’s ­­­­­Luca Castellazzi, but the subsequent Nerazzurri counterattack saw Esteban Cambiasso slickly releasing Pazzini into the box, only for the hitman to immediately be flagged offside.

The Milan giants continued making inroads into their visitors half, as Cambiasso this time teed up Ricardo Alvarez to fire a fraction wide of the far post in the 16th minute. Frustration showed on the Inter players’ faces as they were denied again when Pazzini made a mess of Douglas Maicon’s tantalizing cross, firing straight into the arms of a fully outstretched Antonioli. Maicon subsequently blazed his shot into the side netting after lovely skill from Alvarez on the right.

Inter began lining up shots from all angles of the field as it laid siege to Cesena’s goal, first Lucio firing beyond the post as he arrived in the box before Wesley Sneijder pinged a beautifully struck free kick marginally over the bar. The veteran Anotnioli then proved his commitment to the Cesena cause, saving spectacularly on Sneijder’s low drive outside the area before miraculously tipping Pazzini’s point-blank header wide.

The veteran goalkeeper was having an absolute blinder, this time getting his head in the ball’s way as Lucio struck it with venom from a corner. The first half finished goalless with Cesena unscathed, largely thanks to the heroics of the custodian as well as Inter’s wastefulness in front of goal, Pazzini in particular guilty.

The second half saw Cesena open by giving Inter a reminder the other team was still on the pitch, Iaquinta breaking into the box and blasting his shot over the bar. Guarin summed up Inter’s game up till that point by doing all the hard work on the edge of the area before curling a long shot well off target.

Pazzini was doing little to justify his inclusion in the starting lineup, skewing his shot right into Antonioli’s hands before a lightning quick Cesena break saw Iaquinta go closer yet, this time his blockbuster coming off the crossbar with Castellazzi well and truly beaten.

If the first half made for stolid, one-way traffic, the second half proved to be wide open. Alvarez thought he had earned a penalty when he went down under pressure in Cesena’s box, but Cesena then embarked on a swashbuckling run down the right as the referee waved play on. From the edge of the box, Luca Ceccarelli sent a beautifully placed shot past the grasping hands of Castellazzi into the right corner of the net

The lead was not to last long for the relegated outfit however, as Obi had his effort deflect off a Cesena defender to wrong-foot Antonioli and gift Inter a deserved equalizer. Inter took the lead in the 72nd minute, when substitute Zarate produced a cool, calm header from Guarin’s cross to round off a slick move inside the area.

Apart from Andrea Ranocchia going close with another header from a corner and the occasional slick Inter move going forwards, a sort of impasse was seen out in midfield, and the scoreline was to remain till full time.

While the match counted little for Cesena, which will spend next season in Serie B, the 2-1 win for Inter could prove to be priceless in the race to qualify for the Champions League as Stramaccioni extends his unbeaten record as coach of the club’s senior side to go level on points with Napoli in third.