MILAN - There are some instances when certain numbers are more significant than others. One 0, at times, can weigh more heavily than a five. This was certainly the case in this two-pronged encounter, as Inter and Shakhtar played out two 0-0 draws in both Kyiv and Milan. It was the latter result that led to the Nerazzurri’s elimination from Europe on Wednesday, with the team finishing fourth in Group B. Meanwhile, Real Madrid beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-0 in the group’s other fixture, meaning both the Spanish and German side now progress to the next round of the Champions League. As for the Ukrainians, who defended throughout on Wednesday, they could leave Milan happy. The draw means they will now compete in the knockout stages of the Europa League. However, it was a bitter result for Inter, particularly after such a raft of opportunities and a last-ditch bombardment. Aside from hitting the crossbar and creating many chances, Conte’s side gave everything for the entire 97 minutes. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough, but while one journey ends in Europe, another continues in the league.
Unlike the old days when ears would be glued to radios, fans were able to follow updates from Madrid right from their smartphones on Wednesday, although it really didn’t matter. Whatever happened in the other fixture, Inter vs. Shakhtar remained a must-win game. This was made increasingly clear early on as Real took a first-half advantage. As for team tactics, Castro’s side came into Wednesday’s game at San Siro with two key lessons. One being the 5-0 defeat in the Europa League from back in August, and the other being the goalless draw in Kyiv. Two results that supported his idea of setting out in an ultra-defensive 5-3-2. Meanwhile, Inter opted for a 3-5-2 without an injured Vidal. This left Barella lining up alongside Brozovic and Gagliardini. It was the No.23 who enjoyed the most positive start, as he broke forward often and threatened the Shakhtar defence. It was then in the seventh minute that Inter enjoyed their first real chance; however, what followed was a familiar sound… that being the crash of the crossbar after Lautaro struck the woodwork (the seventh time in six matches for Inter) following an assist from Barella.
Shakhtar, meanwhile, didn’t look threatening at all and seemed content to sit back and absorb the pressure. Inter kept on pushing forward in a tidy and orderly manner. In the 23rd minute, Stefan de Vrij had an attempt that was blocked following a melee in the box. Up front, Lukaku and Lautaro were doing all that they could to shake things up, but things weren’t going their way. With 40 minutes on the clock, Handanovic was forced into his first stop. Given what was happening in Madrid, Shakhtar knew they would progress to the round of 16 with a win, but they didn’t seem interested in going for victory.
The attitude displayed by Castro’s side didn’t change after the break either. In the 53rd minute, they had Trubin to thank, with the young goalkeeper producing a brilliant save to keep out Lukaku’s flicked header. Inter looked to be building momentum as the attacks kept on coming. However, after Brozovic’s deflected shot had gone out for a corner, the Ukrainians almost took the lead on the counter: Handanovic parried Tetê’s shot before Maycon fired the rebound over the bar. It was at this point that Conte’s men started to slow down. Their play became increasingly laborious and the Ukrainian defence was able to soak the pressure up with more and more ease. Conte tried to inject new life into the team, using up all his available substitutions. Sanchez, one of the new faces on the pitch, twice came close with two headers as the match was drawing to a close. He directed the first over the bar and the second towards goal, but Lukaku was unable to get out of the way when it looked like it was heading into the net. Inter had been incredibly unlucky.
The Nerazzurri’s final assault was orchestrated by Eriksen, who had a go from distance on more than one occasion: deflections, defenders and Trubin denied him. Handanovic came up for two corners in the dying moments of the game, but ultimately it wasn’t to be: it ended 0-0, a result that sees Inter finish bottom of Group B.
INTER 0-0 SHAKHTAR DONETSK
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 37 Skriniar, 6 de Vrij, 95 Bastoni (33 D'Ambrosio 85'); 2 Hakimi (36 Darmian 85'), 23 Barella, 77 Brozovic, 5 Gagliardini (7 Sanchez 75'), 15 Young (14 Perisic 69'); 9 Lukaku, 10 Lautaro (24 Eriksen 85').
Substitutes: 35 Stankovic, 97 Radu, 11 Kolarov, 12 Sensi, 13 Ranocchia.
Coach: Antonio Conte.
SHAKHTAR DONETSK (5-3-2): 81 Trubin; 2 Dodô, 77 Bondar, 6 Stepanenko, 49 Vitão (5 Kocholava 36'), 22 Matvienko; 11 Marlos (21 Alan Patrick 64'), 20 Kovalenko, 27 Maycon; 14 Tetê (19 Solomon 64'), 7 Taison (9 Dentinho 86').
Substitutes: 1 A. Shevchenko, 30 Pyatov, 8 Marcos Antonio, 28 Marquinhos, 50 Bolbat, 59 Vyunnik, 61 Sudakov.
Coach: Luis Castro.
Bookings: Vitão (SD), Gagliardini (I), Hakimi (I), Brozovic (I), Trubin (SD)
Note: Conte and Castro both booked.
Added time: 1' - 7'.
Referee: Slavko Vinčić (SVN)
Assistants: Tomaž Klančnik (SVN), Andraž Kovačič (SVN)
Fourth Official: Rade Obrenovič (SVN)
VAR: Pawel Gil (POL)
VAR Assistant: Jure Praprotnik (SVN)