MILAN – Seven days after the stunning Super Cup success thanks to Alexis Sanchez’s goal in the 120th minute, the Meazza was once again the backdrop for an extraordinary Wednesday of late drama. Extra time was once again required for the Nerazzurri to come out on top and it was a player who has been at the club for no fewer than 11 years, Andrea Ranocchia, who notched arguably the best goal of his career to deny Empoli victory in stoppage time at the end of the 90 minutes. Stefano Sensi popped up in the 104th minute with a powerful right-footed strike to fire Inter into the Coppa Italia quarter-finals, which will see the winners of the clash between Roma and Lecce head to San Siro.
The blemish on the night was an early injury to Joaquin Correa that saw the forward leave the pitch in tears in the second minute.
While there was no trophy on the line this time, winning was the only way to continue the team’s Coppa Italia path and securing a quarter-final berth would ensure the club’s targets for the season remained intact.
Inzaghi made changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Atalanta, but was made to shuffle his pack early on after a poor tackle on Correa in midfield forced the striker off with a thigh injury. Sanchez came on in his place and wasted little time before opening the scoring with a pinpoint header after a stunning cross by Denzel Dumfries from the right.
Empoli managed to keep the hosts at bay as the first half wore on and were reinvigorated by Aurelio Andreazzoli’s second-half substitutions, with Nedim Bajrami drawing the visitors level with a fine left-footed strike from inside the box on 61 minutes.
Patrick Cutrone sent a header goalwards with 76 minutes on the clock and lady luck was on his side as the ball crashed against the bar before hitting Ionut Radu on the heel and ending up in the net to give Empoli an unlikely lead.
Inter had 15 minutes to save their Coppa Italia campaign and just as the last of those minutes ebbed away, up stepped Ranocchia to acrobatically steer a bouncing ball into the top corner and send the 5,000 fans in attendance into raptures.
For the second time in a week, the Nerazzurri headed into extra time at San Siro, but a new hero was needed this time around. Inzaghi sent on Sensi for Lautaro as his sixth substitute in what turned out to be a masterstroke as the midfielder controlled the ball on the edge of the box before unleashing a right-footed shot into the top corner. That would prove to be the end of the goals as the Nerazzurri headed through to the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia with a 3-2 victory.
Inter 3-2 Empoli (AET)
Scorers: Sanchez 13, Bajrami 61, Radu 76 (OG), Ranocchia 90, Sensi 104.
INTER (3-5-2): 97 Radu; 33 D'Ambrosio, 13 Ranocchia, 32 Dimarco; 2 Dumfries, 22 Vidal (23 Barella, 65), 8 Vecino (20 Calhanoglu, 65), 5 Gagliardini (9 Dzeko, 77), 36 Darmian (14 Perisic, 65); 10 Lautaro (12 Sensi, 94), 19 Correa (7 Sanchez, 5).
Subs not used: 1 Handanovic, 21 Cordaz, 6 De Vrij, 11 Kolarov, 37 Skriniar, 95 Bastoni.
Coach: Simone Inzaghi.
EMPOLI (4-3-1-2): 22 Furlan; 20 Fiamozzi (30 Stojanovic, 71), 42 Viti, 6 Romagnoli, 3 Marchizza (34 Ismajli, 85); 27 Zurkowski (28 Ricci, 46), 5 Stulac, 25 Bandinelli (8 Henderson, 46); 23 Asllani (16 Fazzini, 98); 99 Pinamonti (10 Bajrami, 46), 9 Cutrone.
Subs not used: 1 Ujkani, 13 Vicario, 21 Damiani, 26 Tonelli, 31 Rizza, 36 Pezzola.
Coach: Aurelio Andreazzoli.
Booked: Vecino, Romagnoli.
Added time: 2+5+1+0.
Assistants: Bottegoni, Margani.
Fourth official: Colombo.
Assistant VAR: Vivenzi.