Spezia 2-1 Inter: Late Nzola penalty punishes wasteful Nerazzurri
M'Bala Nzola's late penalty punished wasteful Inter and gave Serie A strugglers Spezia a shock 2-1 victory on Friday.
The Nerazzurri's slim title hopes are surely over after they were beaten by relegation-threatened Spezia for the first time at Stadio Alberto Picco.
Bartlomiej Dragowski saved an early Lautaro Martinez penalty, and that was a sign of things to come as toothless second-placed Inter dominated the majority of the game but lacked a cutting edge.
Daniel Maldini, on loan from Inter's fierce rivals Milan, put Spezia in front just under 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute at half-time, but Romelu Lukaku's late spot-kick looked to have salvaged a point.
Nzola had the final say by slotting home from 12 yards out after Denzel Dumfries barged Viktor Kovalenko over, ensuring Inter remain 15 points behind runaway leaders Napoli.
Martinez passed up a golden opportunity to give Inter a 14th-minute lead, Dragowski diving to his left to keep his penalty out after referee Livio Marinelli belatedly pointed to the spot for a foul by Mattia Caldara on Danilo D'Ambrosio following a VAR check that took far too long.
Simone Inzaghi's men were given a warning when Kevin Agudelo's effort from a tight angle took a deflection before looping up and hitting the top of the crossbar.
The busy Dragowski thwarted Martinez once again by tipping his strike over the bar after Spezia were caught on the break, and although the Argentina international found the back of the net just after the interval, his header was ruled out due to Lukaku being offside.
Maldini made Inter pay for their profligacy with a clinical first-time finish from out of the blue after brilliant hold-up play from Nzola.
Lukaku looked to have spared Inter's blushes with his 50th Serie A goal from the spot after Salvador Ferrer was adjudged to have fouled Dumfries following a VAR check.
There was one final twist, though, as Dumfries inexplicably shoved Kovalenko and the ice-cool Nzola stepped up to secure a historic win in Spezia's battle to avoid the drop.
What does it mean? Inter looking over their shoulders
Napoli can go 18 points clear at the summit by beating Atalanta at home on Saturday, but it is the teams below Inter who might be of more concern to Inzaghi ahead of a huge Champions League round-of-16 second leg at Porto next week.
Lazio, Roma and Milan are within three points of Inter in the battle for a top-four finish. Only twice in the three-points-for-a-win era (since 1994-95) have they suffered more defeats after 26 games than the eight losses they have been consigned to this season.
Spezia had not scored a goal in their previous five Serie A home games but came up with two to claim a first win over Inter at the sixth attempt, ending a run of seven Serie A matches without a victory to go six points clear of third-bottom Verona.
Martinez pays the penalty
Inter's top scorer Martinez has missed four of his past eight penalties in Serie A since the start of the 2021-22 season. Only Karim Benzema has failed to find the back of the net from the spot more often in one of Europe's big five leagues during that time, the Real Madrid striker unsuccessful with five of his 17.
Martinez had eight shots, and although he hit the target five times, he could not find a way past an inspired Dragowski.
Maldini rubs salt in the wounds
Maldini, son of Milan legend Paolo, has only scored twice for Spezia in Serie A, but he certainly picks the big occasion to make his mark.
He opened his account in a 2-1 loss against his parent club in November and he would certainly have no mixed feelings about finding the back of the Inter net.
A massive Champions League encounter at Porto awaits Inter when they travel to Portugal with a 1-0 lead on Tuesday, while Spezia travel to Sassuolo next Friday.