REYKJAVIK – Mission accomplished. Inter come home from Iceland with a three-goal cushion and one foot in the Europa League group stage.
It took 40 minutes for Mauro Icardi to break Stjarnan’s resistance but once the Nerazzurri were in front there was no looking back. Dodo made it two right after the break before D’Ambrosio came off the bench to notch a third shortly before full time. Walter Mazzarri’s men head into next Thursday’s return leg firmly in the driving seat.
It was 23:00 back in Italy when Inter took to the field for their first competitive match of 2014/15 wearing their smart new home kit. The hosts, whose name means ‘star’ in Icelandic, were hoping to shine on the same pitch where Marcello Lippi lost his first game as Italy coach.
Walter Mazzarri lined his men up in a 3-5-1-1, Handanovic behind a rearguard of Ranocchia, Vidic and Juan Jesus, with Jonathan and Dodo providing width in midfield, M’Vila flanked by Hernanes and Kovacic in the centre and Botta in behind Icardi. Stjarnan responded with an extremely compact and decidedly cautious 4-2-3-1.
Inter found their feet as the game wore on but started brightly enough. Ranocchia went close to opening the scoring midway through the half when he met Jonathan’s corner with a towering header. Jonsson was beaten but Finsen hacked clear off the line.
The Icelanders were certainly in no mood for rolling over. Unbeaten in 15 games since 18 June before meeting Inter, they’re enjoying one of their best campaigns ever and currently sit top of the league. Their defensive solidity has been constructed by their coach and former player Runes Paul Sigmundsson and it took the Nerazzuri 40 minutes to find a way through.
When the opening goal eventually came it was from the boot of Mauro Icardi. The Argentine frontman clinically displayed his finishing prowess following a fine cross by Dodo, one of the most impressive performers on the night.
Mazzarri’s men headed in at the break a goal to the good, and deservedly so.
The coach clearly instructed his charges to keep their foot on the pedal during his half-time team talk because there was no letting up after the restart. Indeed they added a second within minutes of returning to the pitch.
Jonathan latched onto Hernanes’ through ball and stood up a cross for Dodo at the far post, manufacturing a goal straight out of the Mazzarri handbook. 2-0 and the scoreline was now starting to reflect what we’d seen on the pitch thus far.
Osvaldo made his competitive debut in black and blue when he replaced Botta on the hour mark, and minutes later Vidic picked up the first (and only) yellow card of the game for holding onto his man, having been on the receiving end of a foul that had gone unseen by Mr Strahonja.
Sigmundsson shuffled his pack with 20 minutes remaining and threw on some extra weight up front as Toft and Johannsson replaced Runarsson and Gunnarsson. Yet it was Finsen who offered one of the few threats on Inter’s goal with a long-range effort that was smartly dealt with by Handanovic.
Osvaldo showed what he’s about in the 86th minute and he was inches away from a debut goal. Artfully shaking off the attentions of two men, he struck a curling finish that was tipped onto the woodwork by Stjarnan’s No.1 with the feintest of touches.
It was to be a night of firsts for Danilo D’Ambrosio, however, as he opened his Nerazzurri account with seconds of normal time to play. Kuzmanovic – moments after coming on for Hernanes – laid off for the Italian full-back to crash home his finish high into the net in full view of the travelling Inter supporters.
So 3-0 it is after the first leg and now it’s back to the Meazza for the second installment next Thursday – Inter’s first home match of the new season. Don’t miss it!
Stjarnan 0-3 Inter (HT 0-1)
Scorers: Icardi 40, Dodo 47, D’Ambrosio 89.
Stjarnan: Jonsson; Vemmelund, Laxdal, Rauschenberg, Arnason; Johannsson A., Gunnarsson (Johannsson G. 69), Runarsson (Toft 69); Bjorgvinsson, Punyed, Finsen.
Subs not used: Johannesson, Laxdal, Aegisson, Ottesen, Blondal.
Coach: Rúnar Páll Sigmundsson.
Inter: Handanovic; Ranocchia, Vidic, Juan Jesus; Jonathan (D’Ambrosio 75), Hernanes (Kuzmanovic 89), M’Vila, Kovacic, Dodo; Botta (Osvaldo 61); Icardi.
Subs not used: Carrizo, Andreolli, Osvaldo, Guarin, Obi.
Coach: Walter Mazzarri.
Referee: Marijo Strahonja.
Assistants: Sinisa Premuzaj, Igor Krmar.
Fourth official: Fran Jovic.