NEWCASTLE United's Champions League dream is still alive - but only just - after an unforgettable game at the San Siro last night.

Sir Bobby Robson's side must now beat Barcelona in their final second group stage match at St. James' Park a week tonight - and pray that Inter fail to win away to already-eliminated Bayer Leverkusen - to reach the quarter-finals of Europe's greatest club competition.

United's cause is helped by the fact that Inter striker Christian Vieri, who scored their first goal last night, is banned after also picking up a yellow card.

But the Magpies will surely be kicking themselves after twice letting the lead slip against the Italian giants.

Alan Shearer's double strike eclipsed Wyn Davies' club record of ten European goals, but Inter's never-say-die approach brought them back into one of the most thrilling matches Europe has witnessed.

Shearer netted three minutes before half-time when frontline partner Craig Bellamy centred low from the right and the United skipper stretched to steer home from inside the six-yard box.

It was the 32-year-old former England captain's first goal against Italian opposition at club or international level.

Inter replied through Vieri only a minute into the second half, the £31m man beating Andy O'Brien to head in Sergio Conceicao's right-wing cross.

But Shearer struck again in the 49th minute when Laurent Robert supplied a deep centre from the left, goalkeeper Francesco Toldo fumbled, and the Geordie hero rammed in from seven yards.

Defiant Inter, however, were on level terms once more just after the hour-mark when defender Ivan Cordoba's downward header, on the end of Emre's left-wing free-kick, beat a static Shay Given in the Newcastle goal.

Bellamy, back from a three-match UEFA ban imposed for his sending-off when Inter won 4-1 at St. James' in November, was booked three minutes later for diving as he went down in attempting to go round the grounded Toldo.

But it looked a harsh decision by eccentric Portuguese referee Lucilio Batista, who completely lost a grip and reduced the game to a farce in the closing stages.

Newcastle, though, should have known their task would be a tough one - no English side has won away to Inter for 42 years since Birmingham City's 2-1 success in the Fairs Cup.

United had been hit by a pre-match blow when midfielder Kieron Dyer succumbed to a recurrence of the worrying shin problem which has dogged him for over two years. It meant Jermaine Jenas was deployed in the centre of midfield alongside Gary Speed.

Inter's line-up contained only six players who started the game at St. James', and none of their scorers then - Domenico Morfeo, Matias Almeyda, Hernan Crespo and Alvaro Recoba, were on duty this time.

Robson had warned his side against the dangers of being dragged into any vendettas following that stormy encounter, in which Bellamy was dismissed after only five minutes for striking out at Marco Materazzi.

Having served his second three-match European ban for violent conduct this season, the belligerent Bellamy was eager to make amends.

Former Everton defender Materazzi was missing through injury, but hostilities were renewed between Shearer and Fabio Cannavaro, whose own Tyneside contretemps ultimately resulted in the United skipper being suspended for two games.

Newcastle were backed by a typically ebullient Toon Army, though the number who had made the trip looked fewer than the 12,000 expected to descend on this magnificent arena.

Hundreds, however, were still forcing their way into the stadium through a crush as the game kicked off.

It was a colourful and highly-charged occasion and big-match nerves afflicted Newcastle centre-back Andy O'Brien inside the first minute when he was caught in possession by Vieri.

The Italy star played Emre in, but with only Given to beat, the Turkish schemer fired over.

Inter, though, looked far from assured themselves in the fifth minute when Nolberto Solano, Newcastle's scorer in the sides' first meeting, unleashed a venomous effort from around 20 yards which crashed against the underside of the bar and incredibly hit Toldo on the back before bouncing wide.

It was a major let-off for Inter and they almost capitalised on their good fortune two minutes later when left-back Francesco Coco arrowed a ball across goal which Given, playing with a dislocated finger heavily strapped, had to touch aside.

But there was much to admire about the Magpies' game and Shearer felt he should have been awarded a penalty after 17 minutes when he appeared to be impeded by - who else? - but Cannavaro.

Shearer then escaped on the left to deliver a teasing ball across goal which found Solano coming in on the blindside of Guly.

But Toldo defied the luckless Solano again with a smart push-out at his near post.

It was a frantic opening spell and the energetic Jenas embarked on a probing run which brought another stop from Toldo.

Inter skipper Javier Zanetti then forced a low save from Given before being at the centre of a flare-up with Jenas, whom he shoved for no apparent reason.

Bellamy drove straight at Toldo before the referee booked countryman Conceicao for a disgracefully late touchline challenge on Robert.

Batista evened the bookings score when he harshly cautioned Titus Bramble for handball.

Minutes later, Conceicao's free-kick was met by the head of Cannavaro, and Given needed to gather the ball at the second attempt.

After Shearer struck, Conceicao had the ball in the net, but an offside flag had already been raised.

The Nerazzurri were celebrating soon after the break - but not for long thanks to Shearer.

And the furious Inter fans reacted by hurling a flare into the visiting supporters' enclosure, causing panic in the process.

But after Vieri had headed well over and then been denied by Given, Inter levelled again.

Result: Inter Milan 2 Newcastle United 2.

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