Two goals from the ninth-minute substitute leave Cluj with a lot to do in the second leg, as a second-rate Inter pulls through with a valuable clean sheetInter will take a 2-0 lead to Romania in the second leg of its Europa League knockout tie with Cluj, but lost star striker Diego Milito to injury early in the first half to sour the Italian side's jubilation.
Two goals either side of halftime from Rodrigo Palacio helped Andrea Strammacioni's side to its second win in as many games in all competitions, with recent young signing Mateo Kovacic gaining his first team debut.
Cluj started positively, and in the fourth minute Robert Maah fired a sweetly-caught half volley towards goal, which curled wide of Samir Handanovic's post. Moments later, Inter faced an early injury setback, as Diego Milito lay in agony following an awkward fall.
Inter started sluggishly but almost took the lead in the 16th minute. After breaking quickly, Antonio Cassano carried the ball infield before looping a well-weighted cross to the back post in search of Esteban Cambiasso. The Argentine controlled the ball well, but was seemingly hesitant to shoot from a good position with Felgueiras standing tall, as his lame attempt at a cross flew harmlessly out of play.
Four minutes later, frustration within the stadium turned to joy, as substitute Palacio raced through on goal following a Fredy Guarin pass, before calmly lofting the ball over the Cluj goalkeeper and into the net. The Argentine's goal was a result of an unforced Cluj error, as the Romanian side generally fared better in the tentative first half.
Both sides began slowly in the second half, with Cluj continuing to shade possession but have limited chances. Goals seemed to be reliant on individual mistakes, with only Cassano and Guarin for Inter visibly possessing the tools to unlock the opposition defense.
Inter's first significant chance came on 62 minutes, where Cassano was presented with the chance to double his side's lead, as a deep cross was directed in his direction by a Guarin header. The 30-year-old was set to lash the ball past the helpless Cluj keeper from seven yards, but failed to get any true contact on the ball.
Play devolved into a sloppy midfield battle in the later stages, as both sides struggled to enjoy a decent spell of possession. Cluj dropped deeper, seemingly happy with a one-goal deficit for its home leg, allowing Inter to have more of the ball in advanced positions.
The best chance of the second half for the visitors came in the 83rd minute, as the ball was worked out to the left flank to Sepsi, following a mistake from the home side. The Romanian couldn't find a teammate with his centred ball however, as his cross looped out of the 18 yard box.
Three minutes later, Inter doubled its lead, courtesy of the same man who grabbed their opener, Palacio. The Argentine raced through on goal after a defense-splitting through ball, taking what seemed to be a poor touch as it tightened his angles from which to score. This didn't trouble him however, as he chipped Felgueiras with a delightful lob, to seal a solid home win for his side.