07.05.2016 21:38 h

Icardi hobbles off as Inter beat Empoli

Mauro Icardi's Serie A season could be over a week early after the Inter Milan striker hit the opener in a 2-1 win over Empoli on Saturday, then hobbled off with a right thigh injury.

Inter's San Siro victory secured fourth spot in Italy's top flight and direct entry to next season's Europa League, with Ivan Perisic scoring what proved to be the winner before half-time after Manuel Pucciarelli's equaliser.

In what is coach Roberto Mancini's second spell at the club, Inter began this season with big ambitions to clinch a place in the Champions League after a five-year absence.

But despite challenging Napoli and Fiorentina at the top of the table for the first half of the season, Mancini's men took their foot off the gas following the winter break.

Their faint hopes of returning to Europe's premier club competition were ended by a 2-0 defeat at Lazio last week, where Icardi was among Inter's misfiring players.

The Argentine hobbled off just after the hour on Saturday with a knock that is expected to sideline him for next week's trip to Sassuolo, a match keeper Samir Handanovic and winger Perisic will miss through suspensions after picking up late bookings for time-wasting.

A brief statement from Inter said Icardi "suffered a muscle flexor injury in his right thigh that will be evaulated in the coming days."

Mancini, meanwhile, admitted their absence from Europe's top table next season weighs heavily.

"It's weighing on everyone the fact we won't be playing in it," said Mancini, who won seven trophies including three consecutive league titles in his previous spell at the club in 2004-2008.

In 2010 Inter clinched the treble, and Mancini added: "As a club, the Champions League is a competition Inter should always be involved in."

Inter had the perfect start, Icardi firing first-time into the roof of the net on 12 minutes from Perisic's smart pull-back.

Empoli reduced the arrears eight minutes before the interval, Pucciarelli beating Juan Jesus to Massimo Maccarone's pass to beat Handanovic with an angled drive.

But the visitors' joy was short-lived, Croatian winger Perisic arriving in timely fashion into the box to tap home the rebound after keeper Alberto Pelagotti spilled Stevan Jovetic's shot.

Icardi could have doubled his tally moments later but ballooned over from close range.

Empoli had penalty appeals waved away after the restart when Joao Miranda pushed Maccarone to the ground, and Mancini was then forced to take Icardi off after the Argentine pulled up mid-run clutching his right leg.

In the end Inter were thankful for the points after Pucciarelli was ruled offside after drilling into the roof of the net and Andrea Costa saw a bouncing volley go just wide of Handanovic's post.

"We should have taken a lot more from this game, but we'll keep on plugging away playing and enjoying ourselves playing the football we play," said Empoli coach Marco Giampaolo.

In Saturday's late game Bologna host AC Milan, with the rest of the league action on Sunday when champions Juventus are away to relegated Verona.

A Roma win at home to Chievo in Sunday's early game would send Luciano Spalletti's men up to provisional second place with a one-point lead on fellow Champions League qualification rivals Napoli, who travel to Torino later in the day.