Inter Secure Champions League Quarter-Finals Spot Following Thrilling Conclude at Porto
Inter Milan managed to reach the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in more than a decade after avoiding defeat during a tense game at Porto. The 0-0 draw saw them progress through 1-0 on aggregate after a close encounter at the sold-out Dragao stadium. Despite the Portuguese champions' best efforts, they were unable to overturn the narrow deficit from the first leg in Italy.
An orderly Inter squad seemed to be satisfied with their advantage and did not encounter a serious danger until stoppage time. Eventually, Porto struck the post twice in quick succession before Pepe was given his marching orders following a second booking, enabling Inter to join AC Milan in the quarterfinal draw.
The three-time winners of this championship, the Italian side, have progressed to the quarter-finals for the first time in a decade - since 2011. It is the initial occasion since 2006 in which both Inter and AC Milan have made it to the quarter-finals.
Holding a single goal advantage from Romelu Lukaku's goal in the first leg of the last 16, Inter adopted a strategy to frustrate at the Estadio do Dragao.
Porto failed to make it into the last eight of their last five attempts, with Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana only challenged a few times during the game. The Portuguese side was close to scoring in stoppage time when Mehdi Taremi and Marko Grujic both hit the woodwork, as well as a Marcano effort cleared off the line. Despite this, Inter still prevailed and Hakan Calhanoglu expressed his pride in the achievement.
Inter have faced criticism for their domestic form, but Hakan Calhanoglu believes the team's performance in the Champions League provides a morale boost. "We made some errors, but we did extremely well - it was a challenging game," he said. "I want to congratulate the team for their impressive work. Anything can happen in the Champions League and this match has given us new motivation."
Simone Inzaghi, Inter coach, was eager to return to their winning form away from home and put out a starting XI featuring Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez as attackers and Romelu Lukaku on the bench. Up against a Porto side who had recently beaten Juventus and Roma in the same competition, Inter managed to survive the 180 minutes without being breached, which resulted in them qualifying. As the coach himself said, We did a great job, we didn't score but we worked hard until the final whistle and we qualified.
Porto were unable to include veteran centre-back Pepe, 40, in the squad last minute, with their captain absent. In his place, Stephen Eustaquio stepped up and performed well. Early on, Matheus Uribe launched a powerful shot, narrowly missing Inter's goal, while Inter's Dzeko and Nicolo Barella were both denied by Diogo Costa in the Porto goal.
Porto were desperate to take the lead in the first half, but Federico Dimarco stepped up with a fine slide-tackle to deny Evanilson. Minutes before the break, Pepe sent in a tantalising cross which Eustaquio just couldn't reach. As the pressure increased, Marko Grujic tested goalkeeper Andre Onana with a low drive, and Galeno tried his luck to no avail.
Inter held onto their slender lead from the first leg, despite the loss of Alessandro Bastoni through an apparent hamstring injury. Milan Skriniar returned from injury late on to help Inzaghi's side see out the game and deny Porto any goals. The visitors' only real opportunity came in stoppage time, when Denzel Dumfries managed to get a crucial last-ditch block on Marcano's shot.
Porto were desperately unlucky not to gain all three points as they hit the woodwork twice in the dying stages of their match against Ajax Amsterdam. Onana managed to push Taremi's header onto the post, and then Grujic's header cannoned off the crossbar.
Grujic was philosophical about the narrow miss and admitted that Ajax had been the better team in the second half. He was quick to thank the supporters for their unwavering support despite the eventual outcome. "It was good to see that they understood that we gave everything. We really wanted to win the game."
Porto's Pepe was given his marching orders in the dying moments of the match, leaving them unable to push for victory. Inter eventually held on, emerging victorious despite their poor away form this season. This was their first away win in the year 2023, giving Inzaghi some respite from mounting criticisms. The atmosphere at the Dragao was electrifying, only to be met with disappointment in the end.