RAZGRAD - At long last, Christian Eriksen is off the mark. There was so much excitement surrounding his arrival, his debut, and now his first goal in Nerazzurri colours. It came on his sixth appearance for Inter, and just his second in the starting line-up, our Danish signing finally showing everyone at Inter one of his strongest attributes: pinpoint shooting. An excellent strike off his right 26 minutes into the second half helped break down a resilient Ludogorets on the night, who looked like they might just hang on to the 0-0 scoreline for the full 90 minutes. This bit of magic was followed by another flash of brilliance, as Eriksen also rattled the crossbar with his left just two minutes later. These two chances sparked Inter into life and ensured the Nerazzurri travelled home from Bulgaria with an important victory, sealed by an ice-cool Romelu Lukaku penalty in the 95th minute. This 2-0 away win puts Inter in the driving seat of the Europa League tie, with the second leg of this round of 32 clash to take place at 21:00 CET on Thursday 27 February at San Siro.
Although he stuck to his trusty 3-5-2 formation, Antonio Conte made seven changes to the side that started at the Olimpico on Sunday. Ranocchia was Inter’s captain for the evening, our defender making his 200th appearance for the Nerazzurri in a starting eleven with Lautaro and Sanchez partnered up top. Inter started well, Moses looking a constant threat against Nedyalkov down the right. The Bulgarians did then grow into the game, their 4-2-3-1 formation looking more like a defensive 4-4-1-1 when not in possession. Marcelinho’s pace provided an outlet for the hosts, who played well despite not having a single shot in the first 45 minutes. The best chance of the first half fell to Biraghi, our wing-back volleying Moses’ deep cross at goal only to see his effort kept out by an alert Iliev in goal. Another chance came four minutes later as Sanchez played in Eriksen, but our Danish maestro couldn’t quite get a shot off after a super dummy to initially find the space. This summed up Inter’s first half: the right attitude and some nice ideas but a lack of clarity in the final third.
As was also the case in the first half, Conte’s men made a bright and promising start to the second 45. Inter’s pressure took the energy out of Ludogorets, who spent the first 20 minutes of the second half trying to fend off Nerazzurri attacks. In particular, Inter’s combination play on the ground was causing Vrba’s side all sorts of problems. In the 50th minute, Alexis Sanchez had a golden opportunity following more good work by the impressive Moses: the Chilean’s deft touch bounced off the defender, beat the goalkeeper but struck the post. Two minutes later, Lautaro took aim from 20 yards out but saw his powerful shot fly just over the bar. After 63 minutes, the duel between Christian Eriksen and Iliev began, with the Dane’s volley being pushed behind for a corner by the Ludogorets goalkeeper. But Eriksen wasn’t going to be denied: with 71 minutes on the clock, Lukaku offloaded the ball to the Danish midfielder, who fired past Iliev with his right foot. And the same player almost made it two seconds later as his scorcher from distance rattled the bar.
With Conte’s men continuing to attack, Ludogorets were struggling to find any answers: the Bulgarians very rarely threatened Padelli’s goal throughout. With the match coming to a close, the Inter Coach switched to a 4-3-1-2 formation in an attempt to score a second. And a second goal duly arrived in added time after the Nerazzurri had been awarded a penalty for handball. Romelu Lukaku stepped up and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to secure a 2-0 win for Inter.
LUDOGORETS 0-2 INTER
INTER (3-5-2): 27 Padelli; 2 Godin, 23 Ranocchia, 33 D'Ambrosio; 11 Moses (23 Barella 72'), 8 Vecino, 20 Borja Valero, 24 Eriksen, 34 Biraghi (15 Young 81'); 10 Lautaro (9 Lukaku 64'), 7 Sanchez.
Substitutes: 35 Stankovic, 6 de Vrij, 31 Pirola, 87 Candreva.
Coach: Antonio Conte.
LUDOGORETS (4-2-3-1): 23 Iliev; 4 Cicinho, 5 Terziev, 21 Grigore, 3 Nedyalkov; 18 Dyakov (25 Badji 67'), 12 Anicet; 95 Cauly Souza (8 Biton 90'), 84 Marcelinho, 88 Wanderson; 10 Swierczok (13 Tchibota 76').
Substitutes: 27 Stoyanov, 6 Tawatha, 22 Ikoko, 30 Moti.
Coach: Pavel Vrba.
Goalscorers: 71' Eriksen (I), 95' Lukaku (I) (pen.).
Bookings: Lautaro (I), Grigore (L), Wanderson (L), Tchibota (L), Anicet (L).
Added time: -, 4'.
Referee: Carlos del Cerro Grande.
Assistants: Yuste, Alonso.
Fourth Official: Cuadra Fernandez.
VAR and Assistant VAR: Munuera, Barbero.