Arnautovic gives Inter slender Champions League advantage over Atletico

AFP , Wednesday 21 Feb 2024

Marko Arnautovic gave Inter Milan a single-goal advantage in their Champions League last-16 tie with Atletico Madrid after netting the only goal in Tuesday's hard-fought 1-0 win.

Inter
Inter Milan s Marko Arnautovic celebrates after scoring his side s opening goal during the Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match between Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Austria striker Arnautovic rammed home Inter's winner with 11 minutes left at the San Siro after Jan Oblak failed to hold Lautaro Martinez's shot.

The 34-year-old turned jeers into deafening cheers with his goal, which came after a series of missed opportunities left home fans wondering whether Inter would get the win their performance deserved.

His worst miss came just after the hour mark when he ballooned over a sitter, a dreadful finish which came before and after failed attempts to latch on to promising balls.

Arnautovic has had a hard time since returning to Inter on loan from Bologna last summer and those misses further frustrated supporters.

However, thanks to him Simone Inzaghi's side, who are nine points clear at the top of Serie A, take a slender lead to Madrid where they will face Atletico in the decisive second leg on March 13.

Atletico have been a more attacking proposition this season but retreated into the dogged defensive mode more representative of Diego Simeone's long reign in Spain.

They could not keep Inter out and now have to overturn Tuesday's result in order to reach the quarter-finals.

Arnautovic redeemed

A cagey first half between two dogged teams left fans with little to shout about, with only a few pot shots getting fans off their seats until the 36th minute, when Martinez saw his powerful header from Nicolo Barella's cross saved by Oblak.

And moments later Martinez left Inter fans with their heads in their hands after uncharacteristically wasting a golden opportunity to open the scoring.

Martinez was handed a clear chance after Marcus Thuram intercepted Rodrigo De Paul's wayward pass and burst towards Oblak's goal, only for the Argentina forward to scuff his effort off Jose Maria Gimenez.

Thuram then had a powerful effort of his own easily saved by Oblak as Inter finished the opening half in the ascendency.

However the France forward hurt his right thigh while taking that shot and he was replaced at half-time by match-winner Arnautovic, who three minutes after the break could not quite direct Federico Dimarco's teasing cross on target.

Samuel Lino, who curled a decent effort wide in the first half, wasted Atletico's best chance of the night in the 56th minute when he fluffed his finish from a tight angle after exchanging passes with Rodrigo De Paul.

And Arnautovic, who has had a hard time since his return, did himself no favours when he shot over the bar when it looked easier to score.

But he was submerged by delighted teammates when he forced home the winner, which was just reward for a display which highlighted why Simeone said on Monday that Inter were one of the five best teams in Europe.

However the tight nature of the tie was evident when substitute Alvaro Morata headed wide when presented with a great chance to take Atletico back to Madrid level.

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