Inter Milan's Turkish midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu celebrates after opening the scoring during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Inter Milan and FC Barcelona on October 4, 2022 at the Giuseppe-Meazza (San Siro) stadium in Milan. Photo: AFP
Hakan Calhanoglu fired Inter Milan to a 1-0 win over Barcelona on Tuesday which ended the Italians' recent troubles and boosted their hopes of making the knockout stages of the Champions League. Inter headed into the Group C clash at the San Siro in dreadful form having lost five of the previous 10 matches in all competitions but Turkey midfielder Calhanoglu ended the crisis talk when he lashed in the only goal of the game on the stroke of half-time.
Simone Inzaghi will also be smiling as his position as Inter coach was being discussed before his team won a match which moves them above Barca and into second place in the group.
Inter are now three points ahead of the Catalan giants and the same amount behind leaders Bayern, who smashed Viktoria Plzen 5-0 earlier on Tuesday.
"It was very important today for us, to show something to our fans who are always with us. We showed that we deserved it," said Calhanoglu.
Inter had to survive a series of scares in the second half, with Ousmane Dembele hitting the post, Pedri having a goal ruled out for handball in the 68th minute following a VAR check as a tired Inter sank back into their own area late on. But unlike in recent weeks Inzaghi's well-drilled team weren't punished for the few errors they made and even escaped a late penalty shout for handball which left Barca scratching their heads.
"Even they (the refs) don't know the handball rules. They call us for a handball and then the same play later on, they don't call it," said a baffled Sergi Roberto.
"We've lost a chance here, but we have another game in a week at Camp Nou (next week). We knew that if we won here and then again at home we'd be through, it didn't turn out like that but at Camp Nou, with our fans, we can do it."
- Early warning -
Calhanoglu fired off an early warning to Barca when he let rip with a long-range effort in the seventh minute which Marc-Andre ter Stegen did well to tip the bar.
That was one of several counter-attacks launched in the opening half by the hosts, who were content to sit back and soak up the inevitably long spells of Barca possession which mostly came to nothing.
Robert Lewandowski was isolated up front as Inter initially controlled the rhythm of the game and caused discomfort for the away side when they did burst forward. Midway through the first half Inter thought they had been given a penalty when referee Slavko Vincic checked the pitchside monitor for a handball by Eric Garcia, only for Lautaro Martinez to be ruled as having strayed offside in the build-up.
However Inter had their reward two minutes into first half stoppage time when Calhanoglu collected Federico Dimarco's pass and drilled his first goal since August into the bottom corner.
Barca were more dangerous after the break and were unlucky not to be level just after the hour mark when huge gaps opened up in the Inter defence for the first time but Ousmane Dembele could only smash a great opportunity off the near post. The away fans were celebrating shortly afterwards thanks in part of Andre Onana, who flapped at a cross and patted it down to Pedri, who tucked in a simple finish.
However it was soon the San Siro who let out a huge roar of relief as after another on-field review Vincic spotted Garcia handling the ball before it dropped to Pedri and re-established the home side's slender lead.
Inter fans' hearts were in their mouth again deep into the over eight minutes minutes of added time, a long VAR check for a possible Denzel Dumfries handball eventually going in the favour of the Netherlands wing-back and securing a precious three points for the hosts.