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Inter’s Europa hope dented in nine-goal thriller

Milan (AFP) – Mauro Icardi hit a dramatic late brace to complete his hat-trick but Inter Milan’s Europa League hopes were dented in a dramatic nine-goal thriller that saw Fiorentina prevail 5-4 in Florence on Saturday.

Inter travelled to the Artemio Franchi already six points behind Lazio, who occupy fifth position in Serie A and the league’s second Europa League qualifying position, and desperate for their first win in five league outings.

But despite responding to Matias Vecino’s 23rd minute opener with goals from Ivan Perisic and the captain Icardi by the 34th minute, Stefano Pioli’s men suffered a dramatic collapse in the space of 17 second-half minutes that saw them concede a penalty and concede three goals before launching a futile, last-gasp revival.

Inter’s third defeat in five-game winless run leaves them in seventh place but, less than a year after their takeover by the Chinese Suning group, their hopes of qualifying for Europe’s second tier competition are now decidedly compromised.

A week after succumbing to Cristian Zapata’s last-gasp leveller for AC Milan in a 2-2 derby draw, an energetic Inter had Fiorentina ‘keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu on his toes twice in the opening minutes.

But after a largely dull opening period, it was Paulo Sousa’s hosts who took the lead.

Energetic Spanish midfielder Borja Valero set up Hrvoje Milic on the left and when Matias Vecino was allowed to run in unmarked he smashed his first-time effort into the top corner.

Inter completely turned things around in the space of five second-half minutes.

When Perisic nutmegged Vecino in midfield he set up Candreva on the right, ran through unmarked and, when the Italy midfielder left his marker behind, delivered a pinpoint cross for the Croatian to side-foot past Tatarusanu.

Five minutes later, Joao Mario’s simple through ball found Icardi on the run for the Argentine, once he’d held off Colombian defender Carlos Sanchez, to smash past Tatarusanu.

Fiorentina had the chance to level minutes after the restart when Khouma Babacar came down under a tug from behind by Danilo D’Ambrosio, but Federico Bernardeschi’s woeful chip was parried by Handanovic.

When the Italy midfielder was replaced, to an ironic round of applause, with Josip Ilicic just before the hour, it sparked a Viola revival that saw Astori beat Handanovic with a powerful header from a corner then Vecino, with his second, give Fiorentina a 3-2 lead on 64 minutes.

Inter were stunned, but were left more so when Babacar added a late brace in the space of nine minutes.

After penalty appeals were waved away for Gary Medel’s foul on Ilicic, Senegal striker Babacar kept the Chilean defender at bay on a run that saw him curl a superb low shot inside Handanovic’s far post.

Nine minutes later, Babacar flirted with offside to meet Carlos Salcedo’s rolled cross to tap past Handanovic for his second.

Against all odds, Icardi produced a stunning late brace, first turning on a sixpence to fire in off the inside of the far post following a cross from the left then nodding home from a corner to complete his hat-trick in the second minute of added-on time.

It set up a dramatic finale that saw Handanovic leave his goal to get involved at a corner, Marcelo Brozovic getting on the end of a poor Fiorentina clearance with a drive that Astori cleared off the line.

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