SAINT-ÉTIENNE – Qualification edges ever closer. A draw will be enough against Dnipro to ensure the Nerazzurri’s safe passage to the knock-out rounds of this season’s Europa League. Inter started tonight’s match at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard with impressive intensity, showing a real desire to get their opponents on the back foot.
It took just two minutes for the Nerazzurri to carve out their first chance, with Mbaye getting a good shot away after Kovacic’s cross. Three minutes later, Inter were again on the attack through the debutant Bonazzoli. Fresh from a call-up to the Italy U21 side, the young forward made a clever run down the flank before delivering a left-footed cross for Kuzmanovic. The Serb, though, was unable to work the goalkeeper.
The Nerazzurri were certainly in the driving seat, keeping the pressure up on Saint-Étienne and moving the ball around at pace. On nine minutes, Kuzmanovic turned provider to play in Palacio. The Argentine’s shot was deflected by Sall and gathered by Ruffier, but Inter were awarded an indirect free-kick in the penalty area for a back-pass. The ball was slid to Dodo, but his powerful effort was stopped on the line.
Saint-Étienne could barely get out of their own half, and the Nerazzurri pushed on with the bit between their teeth. Kuzmanovic brought another save out of Ruffier with a long-range effort, but it wouldn’t be long until the French defence was finally breached.
Mbaye whipped in a cross for Palacio, whose towering header was swatted away by Ruffier. The rebound, however, fell straight to Dodo, and the Brazilian did superbly to pick his spot and fire the ball home. There was no reaction from Saint-Étienne, and the Nerazzurri went in with their tails up and their noses in front.
There was a noticeable step up from the hosts after the break, and it took them just five minutes to equalise. From Hamouma’s corner, Sall capitalised on uncertainty in the penalty area to smash the ball past Carrizo.
Saint-Étienne were knocking on the door, but Inter stood firm to contain them. Bonazzoli, Kovacic and Kuzmanovic made way for Obi, Osvaldo and Palazzi. The match became a tactical and at times bad-tempered affair, with Tabanou picking up a booking for an ugly foul on Mbaye.
On 75 minutes, Gradel tried a long-range effort, but Carrizo was on his toes to save. It was a tactic that the French outfit tried on numerous occasions, but always without success. The 85th minute saw Carrizo pull off a great save to deny Van Wolfswinkel, doing excellently to stay on his feet and make the block.
There were to be no more goals and the game finished one apiece. It was a hard-earned point for the Nerazzurri, and one that gives them a golden opportunity to seal qualification to the knock-out stages when Dnipro come to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza at the end of the month.
Saint-Etienne 1-1 Inter (HT: 0-1)
Scorers: Dodo (33), Bayal Sall (50).
Saint-Etienne: 16 Ruffier; 24 Perrin, 26 Bayal Sall, 19 Pogba; 2 Theophile-Catherine, 18 Lemoine, 6 Clement, 27 Tabanou; 21 Hamouma (Van Wolfswinkel 68), 9 Erdinc (Diomande 56), 7 Gradel.
Subs not used: 30 Moulin, 11 Mollo, 20 Brison, 22 Monnet-Paquet, 23 Baysse.
Coach: Christophe Galtier.
Inter: 30 Carrizo; 6 Andreolli, 15 Vidic, 5 Juan Jesus; 25 Mbaye, 17 Kuzmanovic (Palazzi 83), 18 Medel, 10 Kovacic (Osvaldo 74), 22 Dodo; 8 Palacio, 97 Bonazzoli (Obi 66).
Subs not used: 1 Handanovic, 9 Icardi, 23 Ranocchia, 54 Donkor.
Coach: Walter Mazzarri.
Referee: Slavko Vincic (Slovenia).
Booked: Tabanou, 53.
Added time: 0+3 minutes.