Inter Milan's hopes of European football next season were boosted by a narrow 1-0 Serie A victory over Parma at San Siro on Sunday.
A tight contest with chances at either end still seemed destined to end in a stalemate, but Tommaso Rocchi popped up in the 81st minute to bundle home an untidy winner that gave the Nerazzurri all three points in a match that could have gone either way.
Rocchi's late strike could have long-lasting ramifications, as Inter now moves into fifth place in the table, leapfrogging Lazio, Udinese and Roma for the final qualifying position for the Europa League next campaign. Roma has a game in hand and trails by two points entering Sunday's bout with Pescara.
The action started right from the opening minutes. Zdravko Kuzmanovic and Yohan Benalouane traded shots at either end in an encouraging beginning from both sides, with plenty of energy about their play.
The chances continued to fall in the opening exchanges, and Ezequiel Schelotto really should have done better when faced with goal from Kuzmanovic’s cross, instead of firing straight at Antonio Mirante.
The action was soon back at Inter’s end of the field though. Nicola Sansone tested Samir Handanovic with a low drive, before Marco Parolo forced the Slovenian to work a little harder to divert his effort away for a corner.
Parma was unlucky not to go ahead on the half hour mark. Picking the ball up on the edge of the box, Jaime Valdes bent a magnificent effort towards the opposite top corner, only to see it thud agonizingly off the underside of the crossbar.
The visitors peppered away at Handanovic’s goal again when Marco Marchionni’s piledriver from 20 yards out flew just wide of the post, but they were soon indebted to Benalouane for blocking Schelotto from point-blank range.
The breathless action that typified the first half was not always present after halftime, as the game settled into a more measured tempo, despite both sides still appearing hungry for the opener.
Goalscoring chances were certainly harder to come by, and Rocchi spurned the first genuine one of the second half when he directed a half-volley just wide of Mirante’s post.
But Parma came close twice soon after. Sansone drilled a shot inches wide after he was released by Amauri, before Handanovic stood tall once again to block Jonathan Biabiny from a one-on-one situation.
With nine minutes remaining, Inter finally found the breakthrough. Jonathan's center found Rocchi in space inside the area, and the forward, despite completely misconnecting with the ball, found the back of the net to lift the roof of San Siro and provide three vital points to a team under fire.