Resilient Inter just survive Porto test to make Champions League quarter-finals

For the first time in over a decade, Inter have booked their place in the last eight of the Champions League as they scraped past Porto on a tense and tight evening in Portugal.

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ESTADIO DO DRAGAO (Porto) – At the end of the day, there will be no Inter fan claiming that their trip to Porto wasn’t worth it. The countless who were denied entrance at the Estadio do Dragao will roam the streets of the Portuguese city in celebration late into the night, joining those who were allowed to watch the Nerazzurri book their pass to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in 12 years following their 0-0 draw at Porto.

Romelu Lukaku’s goal in the first leg of the last-16 tie three weeks ago eventually made the difference in a balanced tie, allowing Inter to set up in a mostly defensive game that paid off thanks to their resilience and ability to keep their focus for almost 100 minutes in a hostile environment, aided by a dose of luck in the closing minutes.

A heated atmosphere

With the home crowd chanting loudly even before kick-off to set the tone for the night, Porto immediately looked eager to put Sergio Conceicao’s instructions into practice by pressing Inter’s ball carriers to get an early chance.

That chance fell through the feet of Mateus Uribe, who didn’t think twice before unleashing a rocket from distance that was crucially deflected by Andre Onana’s fingertips.

The early scare didn’t fluster the Nerazzurri, as they patiently waited for the hosts without pressing too high, aware of the dangers that leaving spaces behind them could present.

Inter’s calm response to aggressive Porto

The edge from the first leg seemed to give Inter the calmness required to handle Porto’s aggressiveness, but their pressure almost paid off when a distracted Denzel Dumfries was dispossessed near the byline, allowing Eustaquio to cut inside and hit a low drive that Onana got down to at the near post.

As much as it was risky, encouraging Porto to push on seemed to be a key part of Simone Inzaghi’s game plan, as his players looked perfectly aware of what they had to do after winning the ball back. Nicolo Barella provided a clear example of just that when he led a break that evolved into a three-vs-two situation, but when he eventually laid it off to his left, Edin Dzeko’s left-footed low strike was pushed away by Diogo Costa.

Almost in tune with their fans’ voice, Porto attacked in surges and their venture forward before the break almost put them ahead, forcing a crucial save from Federico Dimarco. A well-worked move involving more players gave Evanilson the chance to aim at the far post from inside the box, but a sliding tackle from the Nerazzurri’s defender blocked his attempt before it could reach Onana’s goal.

Porto unable to get through an Inter wall

As things resumed, Porto tried to replicate their first-half approach and forced the visitors into their own box since the opening minutes. This time, however, it was clear they wouldn’t hit the brakes as they tried to increase the pace of the game both with and without the ball.

Their pressure all over the pitch started to look unbearable for Inter, whose mistakes helped the hosts to easily retain possession, giving the Nerazzurri no break.

As the minutes ticked on, the question was for how long the Nerazzurri’s defensive wall could still withstand the hosts’ assault, which included an incredible clearance from Denzel Dumfries on the goalline and Marko Grujic’s header against the woodwork in a frenzied seven-minute stoppage time.

The rising volume from the away fans gave their players the final boost they needed to book their place in the last eight of Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in more than a decade.

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