A crisp strike from Giampaolo Pazzini earned Inter Milan an uninspiring 1-0 win over Lille that sent the Italian side to the top of Champions League Group B on Tuesday.
Inter, a shadow of the side that won the European trophy in 2010, secured only its third win in all competitions this season.
Midfielder Wesley Sneijder, back from a thigh injury, played a key role in the buildup to the goal in the 22nd minute. The Dutch international laid off a pass to Mauro Zarate, whose fine cross was smashed in by Pazzini, leaving no chance for Lille’s stand-in goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama.
Lille rued not having taken advantage of a sluggish Inter side which is struggling to keep its head above water in Serie A but is top of Group B with a two-point lead over CSKA Moscow and Trabzonspor.
”They decided to leave us the ball and wait for us 30 meters out from their goal,” said Lille substitute Ludovic Obraniak, who replaced former Chelsea and Liverpool midfielder Joe Cole on 74 minutes.
Lille produced plenty of intricate of build-up play without delivering the decisive finishing touch. Too often, forward Moussa Sow was isolated and outnumbered.
”We tried a lot of things but unfortunately didn’t get pay-back for the work we put in,” said Lille coach Rudi Garcia, who led the Frenchs champion to its third league title last season.
”We’re disappointed because Inter didn’t put us in difficulty very often,” he added. ”We were victims of Italian realism,”
Although just 17th in Serie A after six matches, Inter’s European experience told at Lille, with the back line of Maicon, Cristian Chivu, Lucio and Yuto Nagatomo managing the pressure that Lille built in the second half, in particular. This was Inter’s 100th match in the Champions League. But it was just the first time that it had played a competitive game against the French, who were unbeaten in 10 matches ahead of Tuesday’s encounter.
”I’m very satisfied because in our championship we aren’t doing very well,” said Inter coach Claudio Ranieri, who took over from Gian Piero Gasperini in September after the Italian side’s worst Serie A start in 28 years.
Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar made a diving save to keep out Dimitri Payet’s left-foot shot on 65 minutes, three minutes after the forward came on for midfielder Benoit Pedretti.
”They didn’t make any defensive errors,” said Pedretti. ”We lacked a bit of presence in front of goal.”
Forward Eden Hazard, eyed by big European clubs, often posed the greatest threat for Lille, linking up neatly with Cole and making darting, aggressive runs.
Cole, who took the unusual step for an English player of moving to France to reinvigorate his career after an underwhelming spell at Liverpool, also saw a shot whistle over Cesar’s crossbar.
But the French champions lacked aerial menace in set pieces and it took Pazzini’s goal to sting them into action after a pedestrian start.
”We needed that electro-shock, which is sad,” said Obraniak.
Lille is now bottom of Group B, with just two points, and still has to travel to Milan and to Moscow. Inter has just one more away fixture, at Trabzonspor.