Late Arnautovic winner gives Inter slight edge over Atletico Madrid

Marko Arnautovic did his best to not score for Inter, but the Austrian proved the hero for the Nerazzurri as they claimed a narrow 1-0 first-leg win over Atletico Madrid in their Champions League last-16 tie.


STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan)Inter were made to sweat and then some by Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16, but the Nerazzurri eventually earned a hard-fought but deserved 1-0 win over Diego Simeone‘s side through Marko Arnautovic‘s winner.

The Austrian’s strike came ten minutes from the final whistle and just as the Colchoneros were looking set to grind out what would have been a valuable draw. But Inter were on top, and the goal came after a second half in which Arnautovic himself, who had replaced the injured Marcus Thuram at half-time, wasted two massive opportunities that should have had Inter in front earlier.

Now, with everything still in balance, the Inter will need another solid display at the Metropolitano Stadium on March 13 if they are to book their place in the quarter-finals.

Inter striker Marko Arnautovic wheels away in delight after scoring the winner against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League (@Inter).

Tight tactical battle results in goalless first half

The fans in attendance and the torches on their mobile phones set the scene ahead of kick-off at the Meazza as the Champions League anthem bellowed out moments before the hosts tried to put their visitors under huge pressure from the start.

While Marcus Thuram and Hakan Calhanoglu took part in Inter‘s initial attempts to trouble Jan Oblak, it was Atletico Madrid‘s Samuel Lino who created the first real chances of the night as he immediately showcased all his liveliness by penetrating the box from the left to force Yann Sommer to deflect his cross, before then curling a right-footed attempt wide.

But the opening stages made it clear that the Colchoneros were not simply focused on limiting Inter, and they tried to carve out chances of their own.

While Inzaghi‘s men tried repeated switches of play in an attempt to break up a compact Atletico Madrid block, the visitors closed every angle well.

Inter became more dangerous towards the end of the opening half and went close to hurting the visitors on the break when Axel Witsel lost the ball cheaply to Thuram. He then sprinted through the opponents’ half before laying it off to Lautaro Martinez, whose shot was blocked.

Lautaro Martinez takes aim at the Atletico Madrid goal during Inter’s 2023/24 Champions League Last 16 clash with the Spanish club (@Inter).

The Nerazzurri managed another shot on target with Nicolo Barella teeing up Thuram. The Frenchman’s low drive was comfortably saved by Oblak, and it was also his last involvement of the night, as a muscular issue forced him off during the break.

Arnautovic starts the villain, ends the hero

Inter clearly tried to use their pace as things resumed and their attempts almost paid off as Thuram‘s replacement Marko Arnautovic pounced on Federico Dimarco‘s cross only to send the ball over the bar from an excellent position with an attempted finish on the slide.

Alvaro Morata‘s introduction led to Atleti pushing, and Samuel Lino and Marcos Llorente closed in on Sommer‘s goal in quick succession. Neither mustered a shot on target, though.

But in a tight contest, Inter and notably Arnautovic once again wasted what was arguably the clearest opportunity of the night until that point. After nicely completing a one-two with Lautaro, the Austrian found himself on the edge of the six-yard box but incredibly fired over the bar for the second consecutive time, appearing to attempt a no-look shot when in on Oblak‘s goal.

Inter’s Marko Arnautovic celebrates a Champions League goal. (@Inter)

The Colchoneros continued to ride their luck as Denzel Dumfries‘ dangerous cross got cleared inches from the goal line before Oblak was called upon to save a Lautaro header.

Then, perhaps predictably, Arnautovic turned the Inter fans’ curses into sheer delight as he found himself exactly in the right place at the right time to turn a rebound into an open goal after Oblak had denied Lautaro. Even then, though, the forward almost missed as a scrambling Atleti defender helped the ball into the net as he attempted to hammer it clear off the line.

That opener came ten minutes from time as a fair reward for Inter‘s constant probing, and they looked the side more keen to get a first-leg win sealed.

The result should now force Atletico Madrid to put up more than the strenuous defence they showcased in the second half when the two sides meet again at the Metropolitano in mid-March. There, Atletico have won each of their European games this season, and have dropped just two points at home in La Liga all season.


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