Just seconds after Diego Milito had headed against the bar, Vasili Berezutski popped up with a late winner for the visitors to send them through to the last 16
With Lille drawing with Trabzonspor in France, the Russians appeared to be heading out with their game tied at one goal apiece, Esteban Cambiasso having almost immediately cancelled out Seydou Doumbia’s opener for the visitors.
However, after Diego Milito had hit the post from just three yards out, Vasili Berezutski then nicked a famous victory for CSKA when he headed home Aleksandrs Cauna’s corner in the closing stages.
After an initially low-key opening, the game came to life six minutes in when Pavel Mamaev slipped Doumbia in on goal but the striker took an eternity to set himself and his subsequent shot was blocked by the scrambling Walter Samuel.
Shaken by that scare, Inter captain Javier Janetti sought to rally his troops and the Argentine stormed forward moments later before putting Milito away.
The former Genoa striker had two men in support and tried to cut the ball back for the unmarked Coutinho but the Argentine’s attempt to do so was woeful and Vladimir Gabulov gratefully intercepted.
Milito fared better in a similar position moments later when he picked out Yuto Nagatomo but the Japanese shot straight at Gabulov.
Inter appeared to warming to their challenge but it was CSKA who carried the greater attacking threat for the remainder of the half.
Indeed, the visitors should have taken the lead on 34 minutes when Vagner Love, shortly after drawing a fine save out of Luca Castellazzi with a curling effort from the edge of the box, failed to hit the target from just six yards out after getting his head on Alan Dzagoev’s wonderfully inviting free kick from the right.
Milito was then denied by Gabulov after being put through by Coutinho before Love squandered another fine headed opportunity when he nodded a corner wide right at the end of the half.
Love went some way atoning for his first-half profligacy, though, by playing a key role in the game’s opening goal, the Brazilian’s sublimely weighted return ball just after the break leaving his strike partner Doumbia with an easy first-time finish.
Much to CSKA’s frustration, though, their lead lasted barely 60 seconds, with Cambiasso tapping home after Gabulov had parried Andrea Ranocchia’s header from a corner from the left-hand side.
CSKA very nearly went ahead when Love and Doumbia combined to great effect again midway through the second half but again the former failed to finish.
The Brazilian’s profligacy should have been punished on 86 minutes when Zanetti stood the ball up for Milito but the striker headed against the bar from inside the penalty box with the goal at his mercy.
The visitors made the most of their let-off within a minute, with V Berezutski beating Inter goalkeeper Castellazzi with a fine downward header to earn CSKA a place in the last 16.
Despite their defeat, Inter progress as winners of the group but that will be of little consolation to the Nerazzurri's fans after watching their side beaten at home for the second time in five days.