MÖNCHENGLADBACH – It must be fate. Sometimes, it decides that you will encounter certain cities on your journey. And not just once. It could be any place in the world, but it’s certainly the case that Inter have a special connection with this city in North Rhine-Westphalia called Mönchengladbach. Tonight, at the Borussia-Park, the Nerazzurri were ferocious, selfless, strong and uncompromising. It could have been the match where they waved goodbye to their European journey, but it turned out to be a rollercoaster ride with a happy ending: the chance to make it through to the last 16 on Wednesday.
Shakhtar’s win against Real Madrid has shaken things up in Group B, the most open group in the Champions League. On the final matchday, the Germans, who sit in first on eight points, will take on Real Madrid (seven). Inter (five) will face the Ukrainians. There’s the obligation to win, then we’ll see what happens (a draw between Real and Borussia would eliminate Conte’s side). Today, meanwhile, we were able to score three goals and bring home three points, with Darmian netting for the first time in an Inter shirt and Lukaku bagging yet another brace. It was a battle until the end.
Inter were aiming to start on the front foot against the Germans, who lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that contained many fast-paced and creative players in attack. The Nerazzurri, meanwhile, had a clear idea of how they wanted to play, remaining solid and getting the ball forward quickly. Lautaro was involved immediately, with the Argentine having two shots charged down and also hitting the side netting with six minutes on the clock. Inter were looking particularly threatening down the right, where both Darmian and Lukaku broke free on several occasions. And it was down the right where the first goal came about on the 17-minute mark: with Inter having won the ball back high up the pitch, Gagliardini laid it off for Darmian to fire through Sommer’s legs from a tight angle.
The lead was a deserved one, with the Nerazzurri controlling matters for the first 30 minutes. The team looked intense, played the ball out sharply and things were clicking nicely with lay-offs and dangerous runs. Inter had a chance to double the lead when Lautaro was denied by excellent goalkeeping from Sommer in the 33rd minute. After, Rose’s side started to kick on and create their first chances. In the 37th minute, Stindl and then Thuram in particular were able to seriously test Handanovic.
Having been in charge, Inter let the lead slip in first-half stoppage time as Lazaro picked out Pléa, who headed home to make it 1-1. It’s not easy to go into the break having just conceded a goal like that out of the blue and at a bad time. Time was running out for Inter in the competition and the team needed to bounce back and go again. Borussia came out playing more open football as they looked to get a win that would make qualification a straightforward matter. Lautaro looked lively and unpredictable and, like in the reverse fixture, he hit the post with Sommer beaten.
The noise of that clanging against the post sounded the alarm that Romelu Lukaku was about to take over. The Belgian stepped up and inspired Inter, giving Conte’s men a 3-1 lead in nine minutes. In the 64th minute, he shrugged off Zakaria before firing low across Sommer after Gagliardini and Brozovic’s work to win the ball back. The new entrants Sanchez and Hakimi then combined to send Romelu through on goal, and he made no mistake all alone against the Swiss goalkeeper.
Was it over there? Never. Pléa brought Borussia right back into it with a great strike across goal, before Young couldn’t convert from point-blank range to restore the two-goal cushion. With 83 minutes on the clock, Pléa struck his third to make it 3-3 and the spectre of elimination loomed large. However, Makkelie was called to look at it by VAR as Embolo was just offside and in the path of the shot, as a result of which the referee ruled the goal out. The final moments were tense and fiery before the whistle finally went after 96 minutes. It finished 3-2 to the Nerazzurri and the final match against Shakhtar will be crucial in determining our European fate. Forza Inter!
Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-3 Inter
BORUSSIA MÖNCHENGLADBACH (4-2-3-1): 1 Sommer; 18 Lainer, 24 Jantschke (8 Zakaria 46'), 28 Ginter, 17 Wendt (11 Wolf 78'); 6 Kramer, 32 Neuhaus; 19 Lazaro, 13 Stindl (36 Embolo 70'), 10 Thuram; 14 Pléa.
Substitutes: 21 Sippel, 31 Grün, 3 M. Lang, 7 Herrmann, 15 Beyer, 16 Traoré, 22 Bénes, 40 Poulsen.
Coach: Marco Rose.
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 37 Skriniar, 6 de Vrij, 95 Bastoni; 36 Darmian (2 Hakimi 60'), 23 Barella, 77 Brozovic, 5 Gagliardini, 15 Young (14 Perisic 87'); 9 Lukaku, 10 Lautaro (7 Alexis 71').
Substitutes: 35 Stankovic, 97 Radu, 12 Sensi, 13 Ranocchia, 14 Perisic, 24 Eriksen, 33 D'Ambrosio.
Coach: Antonio Conte.
Goalscorers: 17' Darmian (I), 45'+1 Pléa (BM), 64' and 73' Lukaku (I), 75' Pléa (BM)
Bookings: Stindl (BM), Lautaro (I), de Vrij (I), Barella (I), Lainer (BM), Young (I), Lukaku (I), Gagliardini (I), Bastoni (I)
Note: Antonio Conte and Marco Rose both booked.
Added time: 1' - 6'.
Referee: Danny Makkelie (NED).
Assistants: Mario Diks (NED), Hessel Steegstra (NED).
Fourth Official: Ivan Kružliak (SVK).
VAR: Kevin Blom (NED).
VAR Assistant: Jochem Kamphuis (NED).