Mauro Icardi rescued a 1-1 draw for Inter Milan against PSV Eindhoven in Tuesday’s final group game but it proved not enough as the Chinese-owned Italian giants crashed out of the UEFA Champions League.
“One player doesn’t make a team,” said coach Luciano Spalletti after Inter’s first foray into Europe’s elite competition for more than six years ended prematurely.
“Icardi rose to the challenge,” continued Spalletti, “he not only scored today, he dribbled well, pulling a lot back but it’s not one player that sets the flavour of a great team.”
The Serie A side needed to better Tottenham Hotspur’s result at Barcelona to leapfrog the Premier League side and snatch a place in the knockout rounds.
Inter thought they had done enough in the 73rd minute when captain Icardi marked his 200th game for the club by equalising Hirving Lozano’s 13th-minute opener, with Spurs a goal down at the Camp Nou.
However Lucas Moura levelled at 1-1 for Tottenham after 85 minutes, enabling his team to advance to the last 16 thanks to the away goal Christian Eriksen scored in their 2-1 defeat at the San Siro giving them a superior head to head record after Inter’s 1-0 defeat in the return at Wembley.
It was a bitter exit for the team who last qualified for the Champions league in the 2011-2012 after winning the last of their three Champions League titles in 2010 under Jose Mourinho.
– ‘We got nervous’ –
“We got nervous, lost too many balls, created disorder at the tactical level and tension set in,” said Spalletti whose side drop into the Europa League.
“We had the match we needed but didn’t capitalise on the chances we had. As the anxiety grows, you lose sight of how to control the game.”
Zhang Jindong, whose Suning Group bankrolls Inter Milan, have invested heavily bringing in new players and the hosts started brightly against already-eliminated PSV, coached by former AC Milan midfielder Mark van Bommel, with Ivan Perisic clipping the post after five minutes.
But the Dutch broke through following a monstrous blunder by midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah. The Ghanaian was caught in possession by Steven Bergwijn, with the ball flying across the face of goal for Lozano to nod in.
PSV goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet denied Icardi, Stefan de Vrij and Keita Balde before the Argentine equalised midway through the second half, meeting a cross from Matteo Politano at the far post.
The 25-year-old became the first player to score in each of his first three Champions League home games for Inter, with his 119th goal since arriving from Sampdoria five years ago.
After news of Moura’s 85th-minute equaliser filtered through Inter desperately piled forward for the winner with Lautaro Martinez coming closests as he headed over to the despair of the 62,635 crowd.
“We let ourselves be carried away by tensions, by the public mood,” Spalletti added after the goals from their rivals game were broadcast in the stadium.
“How do you hide the result of your opponents? The public cheer. We had to have more balance, not to become frantic.”
It was the a further blow for Inter after losing 1-0 to Juventus in Turin last Friday to fall 14 points behind the Italian champions in Serie A.
And after the highs of elite Europe football they return to domestic duty on Saturday welcoming relegation-threatened Udinese to the San Siro.