MILAN - It was not a case of third, but fourth time lucky for Inter in the Champions League against Shakhtar Donetsk. An astonishing run of three goalless draws in a row against the Ukrainian side seemed like it could continue with neither team able to break the deadlock heading into the interval despite 15 shots for the hosts in the first half. Edin Dzeko, however, had other ideas as the Bosnian popped up with a crucial second-half brace in the space of six minutes to fire Inter up to ten points in the group.
Simone Inzaghi’s troops’ place in the last 16 was subsequently secured after Real Madrid ran out 3-0 winners away to Sheriff ensuring that the Moldovans can’t catch Inter in the Group D standings.
There was a familiar feel to proceedings at San Siro on Wednesday evening, but the big difference this time around was that Inter knew a positive result could all but secure a last-16 berth. The Serie A win over Napoli on Sunday was the perfect preparation for a pivotal Champions League evening in which patience and determination were required in equal measure against opponents that had kept the Nerazzurri out earlier in the season and twice in 2020/21.
Roberto De Zerbi’s side attempted to pass the ball out from the back repeatedly, but the Nerazzurri were quick to put them under pressure and force mistakes that led to openings. The chances started flowing in the early stages, but either a lack of accuracy or a hurried approach were to blame for the failure to find the back of the net. Andrea Ranocchia’s towering header went just wide of the post in the 23rd minute, while Ivan Perisic calmly slotted home on his left foot, only for the goal to be ruled out due to Matteo Darmian being offside prior to crossing the ball to the Croat. Dzeko was denied brilliantly by Anatolii Trubin when one-on-one with the shotstopper.
The visitors did create some openings of their own, with the pacy Fernando particularly dangerous. Trubin’s distribution was less impressive than his shotstopping, with a wayward goal kick leading to Lautaro finding himself one on one, but a heavy first touch allowed the goalkeeper to rush out and smother the ball.
At the start of the second half, Inter had the ball in the net once again, only for the roar from the San Siro faithful to be subdued by the decision to penalise Lautaro for a push on Mykola Matviyenko before smashing the ball home. With frustration growing as another goalless draw seemed to be edging closer, an inspired Ivan Perisic drove forward down the left and when the ball was loose on the edge of the box, Dzeko ran on to it and unleashed a precise shot that nestled in the corner. The relief was palpable as Inzaghi ran down the touchline to celebrate with his charges.
The Croat was at it again six minutes later when he picked out Dzeko, who rose above everyone around him to head home and put the contest to bed.
The Nerazzurri went close to a third through Stefano Sensi late on and the visitors could’ve cut the arrears through Dodo, but there would be no more goals and a fully deserved win sent the team through to the last 16 with the help of Real Madrid’s victory over Sheriff.
Inter 2-0 Shakhtar (HT: 0-0)
Scorers: Dzeko 61, 67.
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 37 Skriniar, 13 Ranocchia, 95 Bastoni; 36 Darmian (33 D'Ambrosio, 78), 23 Barella (22 Vidal, 78), 77 Brozovic, 20 Calhanoglu (12 Sensi, 86), 14 Perisic (32 Dimarco, 86); 9 Dzeko, 10 Lautaro (19 Correa, 68).
Subs not used: 21 Cordaz, 97 Radu, 2 Dumfries, 5 Gagliardini, 8 Vecino, 11 Kolarov.
Coach: Simone Inzaghi.
SHAKHTAR DONETSK (4-2-3-1): 81 Trubin; 2 Dodo, 3 Vitao, 5 Marlon, 22 Matviyenko; 6 Stepanenko (8 Marcos Antonio, 46), 7 Maycon; 14 Tete (11 Marlos, 80), 38 Pedrinho (15 Bondarenko, 73), 19 Solomon; 99 Fernando (20 Mudryk, 80).
Subs not used: 1 Shevchenko, 30 Pyatov, 4 Kryvstov, 26 Konoplia, 44 Korniienko, 45 Sikan, 70 Konoplyanka, 77 Bondar.
Coach: Roberto De Zerbi.
Added time: 2+3 minutes.
Referee: Haţegan (ROM).
Assistants: Grigoriu, Gheorghe (ROM).
Fourth official: Petrescu (ROM).
VAR and assistant VAR: Dingert, Fritz (GER).