MILAN – The time to analyse things will come. But at this point, with the referee having just blown the final whistle, all we can do is applaud the Nerazzurri for their efforts. Inter fell to defeat against Barcelona this evening and have thus been eliminated from the Champions League. There’s the overwhelming feeling of disappointment, especially given that the result could have been a different one if we take into account the chances Conte’s men created and the bits of play they produced. The players put their hearts and souls into it and kept going right until the very end in their quest for victory, even after the young Ansu Fati had made it 2-1 to the away side. Our Champions League campaign is over for another year, also thanks to the unfortunate night we experienced in Dortmund. Borussia did their job, running out 2-1 winners on home soil against Slavia Prague. Inter, who took 18 shots and had three goals disallowed for offside (all of which were correct decisions, it must be said), will now take part in the Europa League. The team gave everything, as the Coach had asked of them.
With first place having already been secured, Valverde had the luxury of resting a few players for the Blaugrana’s trip to Milan: Messi remained in Barcelona, while Suarez and De Jong were named on the bench. Nevertheless, Barcelona have quality throughout and lined up in a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Rakitic and Vidal adding experience to a midfield also consisting of Alena, Firpo and Wague. Up front, Griezmann was selected alongside Carles Perez, who made his first Champions League appearance this evening. Barcelona’s formation was an attempt to mirror Antonio Conte’s, with Vidal being tasked with putting pressure on Brozovic and pushing up into space when Valverde’s men attacked.
Despite this, Inter began strongly, backed on by a fantastic San Siro crowd. The first opportunity of the game came through D’Ambrosio, who fired over from a promising position after Borja Valero had burst through the middle. Lautaro and Lukaku were causing the Barcelona defence problems as Conte’s men looked to get the ball to the duo’s feet behind the Blaugrana’s midfield. The Belgian striker found the net in the seventh minute but the goal was ruled out for offside. And Lukaku came close again three minutes later, with Lenglet denying the frontman with a superb block. In the 19th minute, Neto got two hands to Biraghi’s powerful effort. But then, out of nowhere, Barcelona struck: Carles Perez was in the right place to fire past Handanovic after Godin had attempted to get to the ball before Vidal. The Spanish striker was proving to be a real thorn in Inter’s side: he’d already tested the reflexes of the Inter skipper in the ninth minute prior to scoring the opener. It was a major setback for Inter, who weren’t able to put together any threatening moves for the next ten minutes under continuous Barcelona pressure. Indeed, the away side could and perhaps should have doubled their lead through Lenglet, who dragged a shot wide from just ten yards out. However, Inter managed to find a response: both Lautaro and D’Ambrosio came close to levelling matters before the Nerazzurri finally found a deserved equaliser just before half-time. It was Lukaku who scored it via a slight deflection following great hold-up play from Lautaro. A much-needed and long-awaited goal that gave the Nerazzurri hope.
The Nerazzurri’s second half was a tale of tension, willpower and a few more mistakes. Barcelona started in the driving seat and kept the ball well for the first 15 minutes, Perez the inspiration at the heart of all of the away side’s attacks. Griezmann tested Handanovic with a powerful effort but our goalkeeper came up strong to keep the Frenchman out. Despite the start to the half, the Nerazzurri showed a lot of heart and energy in their search for a win. Two great chances fell to Romelu Lukaku in the space of just three minutes: first he fired it right at Neto from yards out, then he skipped round the Barca goalkeeper but couldn’t keep the ball in play. Lautaro then stepped up to the plate, looking to create something out of nothing as he did all game. His left-footed effort grazed the post in the 72nd minute, then the space of six minutes saw him put the ball in the net twice, with both correctly ruled out for offside. Despite maximum effort, a draw wasn’t going to be enough with Borussia Dortmund leading 2-1 against Slavia Prague. Conte threw Politano and Esposito into the mix for a desperate and drama-filled finish, but this only served to open up more space for the Blaugrana on the counter.
It was the youngest man on the pitch who had the final word: Ansu Fati, born in just 2002, drove the ball past Handanovic from the edge of the area, seeing his shot bounce off the post and into the back of the net. This was the goal to make it 2-1, killing off the Nerazzurri’s Champion League hopes for the season in the 87th minute. Despite this, Inter kept their heads held high and continued pushing forward in search of an equaliser. Sadly they couldn’t find it, but the Nerazzurri fans showed their appreciation and affection with their applause for the great heart shown tonight by Conte’s boys.
And so Inter’s run in the Champions League this season comes to its end: the Nerazzurri finishing in third place of Group F and dropping down into the draw for the round of 32 in the Europa League. We’ll discover our opponents for the next chapter of our European adventure on Monday. Until then, and indeed forever and always, #ForzaInter.
INTER 1-2 BARCELONA
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 2 Godin, 6 de Vrij, 37 Skriniar; 33 D'Ambrosio (16 Politano 75'), 8 Vecino, 77 Brozovic, 20 Borja Valero (30 Esposito 77'), 34 Biraghi (19 Lazaro 68'); 9 Lukaku, 10 Lautaro.
Substitutes: 27 Padelli, 21 Dimarco, 87 Candreva, 95 Bastoni.
Coach: Antonio Conte.
BARCELONA (3-4-1-2): 13 Neto; 6 Todibo, 23 Umtiti, 15 Lenglet; 16 Wague, 4 Rakitic (21 De Jong 62'), 19 Alena, 24 Junior Firpo; 22 Vidal; 17 Griezmann (9 Suarez 62'), 27 Perez (31 Ansu Fati 85').
Substitutes: 1 ter Stegen, 5 Busquets, 33 Araujo, 35 Morer
Coach: Ernesto Valverde.
Scorers: 23' Perez (B), 44' Lukaku (I), 87' Ansu Fati (B)
Bookings: Lenglet (B), Borja Valero (I), Junior Firpo (B), de Vrij (I), Godin (I)
Added time: 2' -
Referee: Björn Kuipers (NED)
Assistants: Sander van Roekel, Erwin Zeinstra
Fourth official: Serdar Gözübüyük
VAR and Assistant VAR: Paulus van Boekel, Dennis Johan Higler