Pandev rewards coach's reprieve to haul Inter back from the brink

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The Independent Online

Internazionale's Goran Pandev was in such poor form he was left out of the Champions League last 16 first leg against Bayern Munich but the quiet Macedonian sprang to life at the perfect time in the return game.

Inter's 3-2 win at Bayern on Tuesday powered the holders into the quarter-finals after Pandev struck two minutes from time to seal a 3-3 aggregate draw and an away goals triumph. The striker has scored just two Serie A goals all season and faced the ignominy of being omitted in the home leg when his coach, Leonardo, went with just Samuel Eto'o up front despite Diego Milito's injury and Giampaolo Pazzini's ineligibility.

With goals desperately needed in the Allianz Arena, the Brazilian opted to start with Pandev despite his troubles and the forward repaid the faith as Inter started to show the form which took them to glory last season. "Football is strange," Pandev said. "But I believed right until the end. I've worked a lot in recent months, I've not been great physically. It's been a great match, we went in front, then we suffered a lot but we created chances and the true Inter shone through."

Inter spared Italy the shock of having all three remaining Champions League teams knocked out at the last 16 stage, following the exits of Roma and the Serie A leaders Milan while the victory also spared goalkeeper Julio Cesar's blushes. The Brazilian walked home from San Siro in anger after making a mistake which led to Mario Gomez's 90th-minute goal in the first leg and he let the ball slip again in the return encounter as the German striker made it 1-1.

Eto'o had already given Inter a fourth-minute lead, but when Thomas Müller put Bayern 2-1 up on the night just after the half-hour the visitors' task looked all but impossible. However, Wesley Sneijder struck on 63 minutes and Pandev's coolly taken winner showed why Inter won the competition last season and why they could again be contenders this term.

The club's president, Massimo Moratti, even received a congratulatory phone call from the Real Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho, who led Inter to last season's treble. "Mourinho called me, He was very happy for our victory," Moratti said.

Bayern's exit has left the Germans facing a year without any silverware. "This was a stab in the heart," said the club's chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. "We must try to rescue anything we can in the Bundesliga but that will not be easy. Somehow we have to regroup and get on with it."

Pressure is mounting on Bayern, who will host next year's Champions League final but face a tough challenge to finish second in the German league and qualify for the tournament automatically or finish in the top three and play a qualifying round. They lie fourth, 16 points behind the leaders Borussia Dortmund with eight games left, seven points behind second-placed Bayern Leverkusen and two points behind Hanover 96 in third.

"This was a self-inflicted defeat, like so many this season," said their coach, Louis van Gaal, who has fallen victim to their bad run and will be leaving at the end of the season, a year early. "Now we must somehow drag the team out of that dark hole it is in, because we still want to qualify for the Champions League."

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