STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA (Milan): Romelu Lukaku’s name was once again ringing around a packed-out Meazza on Wednesday night as he came off the bench to score the only goal of the game and give Inter a 1-0 win over Porto in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
There wasn’t too much in the way of clear-cut chances on the night, but Lukaku made sure that Inter will take a narrow advantage to Portugal as he put away the one opportunity that fell his way. Porto did finish the game with 10 men after Otavio’s second-half dismissal.
For much of the first half, the Meazza was left waiting to see Inter find a way through a solidly-set Porto defensive unit, and for the majority of that time they had little luck. The best chance they had was their first of the game, and it fell to exactly the right man, but Lautaro Martinez could only direct his header in the lowest of the three blue tiers behind Diogo Costa’s goal.
A clever Hakan Calhanoglu attempt to sneakily whip an effort in at the near post after a corner taken short was as good as it got shortly after, but Diogo Costa was alert to palm it behind. Porto then had chances of their own to go into the lead with Marko Grujic and Galeno passing up opportunities.
The Porto goalkeeper was the hero of the opening half. His save to deny Calhanoglu earlier was one he would have been annoyed had he not made, but his rapid reflexes to turn a close-range Alessandro Bastoni in stoppage time was every bit as impressive as it was unlikely, quickly shifting his left arm just enough to divert it away from goal.
Porto pick up, Big Rom decisive
The Portuguese champions continued to show flashes shortly after half time, and they should have put themselves ahead before the hour mark. Milan Skriniar and Andre Onana will likely come in for praise for their defensive heroics to keep out two efforts from Zaidu and then a third from Mehdi Taremi. In truth, though, the second and third of those should really have been finished.
Romelu Lukaku’s introduction for Edin Dzeko helped Simone Inzaghi’s side, and after early attempts to see him battle it out with veteran Pepe to no great success, he shifted to the right of Inter’s front two. From there, he teased a ball inside the six-yard box that evaded Lautaro’s outstretched leg by inches.
Just as things had started to open up and Inter might have been smelling blood, the visitors went down to ten as Otavio was sent off for second bookable offence after bringing Calhanoglu down. He had picked up his first yellow when things got a little heated in the first half.
Lukaku’s impact became undeniable as the ball fell his way in the box for the first time on the night. Not quite finishing his first attempt as he headed onto the post, he made no mistake as he was afforded a second chance and he fired an 86th-minute winner past Diogo Costa.
The return leg will be played in Portugal on March 14.