MILAN – They say that football is a strange game and tonight’s match is a fine example of just that. The team returned to San Siro in the Champions League with the supporters in attendance and a wonderful atmosphere. The performance was noteworthy, with Inter racking up 14 shots on goal in the first half alone, but Thibaut Courtois was in fine form. Milan Skriniar seemed to be intent on singlehandedly denying Real Madrid, as he turned in a host of crucial tackles and clearances. That was not enough, however, as Inter left the pitch empty-handed, having conceded the only goal of the game with 89 minutes on the clock.
The result does not wipe away a strong team performance which should give the players confidence for the European path that lies ahead. It certainly hurts, but time is on our side, combined with the support of the Inter faithful.
Every tackle matters. Every ball is crucial. The San Siro faithful was ready to shake for every tackle, head every ball and jump for every pass in the team’s opening Champions League group game. The clash between Inter and Real Madrid in November 2020 seems like a lifetime ago. It was freezing cold both in terms of temperature and atmosphere in an empty stadium, while the ground was buzzing this time around.
Inter knew how tough it would be. Real Madrid were cool and collected as always, seemingly unfazed by the emotions brimming in a potentially crucial opening game. Simone Inzaghi’s side lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, while Carlo Ancelotti’s charges were in a classic 4-3-3 system, with David Alaba at centre-back, Nacho at full-back, Luka Modric dictating the play and Vinicius Jr and Lucas Vazquez supporting Karim Benzema.
Skriniar showcased all his gladiator qualities throughout, with an electric current sparking the team into life to reach every loose ball. Inter racked up a host of first-half chances, including some clear-cut ones, but Courtois would simply not be beaten.
First Lautaro and then Dzeko went agonisingly close to opening the scoring. Inter passed the ball around confidently and broke through the Real Madrid press time after time. The Argentine will be disappointed that his header from Ivan Perisic’s cross was directed straight at the goalkeeper.
Real had a Casemiro shot from long range to show for their attacking endeavours and a free header for Militao that the defender steered wide. Courtois had to be at full stretch to deny Dzeko as the first half neared its conclusion. With 14 shots to Real Madrid’s five, Inter’s dominance was clear, but the goal just would not come.
The fast tempo in the first half could not last throughout the contest. The visitors forged more attacks down the right through Dani Carvajal as they tried to pin the Nerazzurri back, with Vinicius adding an element of unpredictability to their attack. Skriniar, however, was able to foresee almost everything and turned in one of his finest Inter displays, as he thwarted attack after attack with his flawless anticipation.
As the game wore on, Real Madrid applied more pressure before Denzel Dumfries entered the fray to try to use his pace to the hosts’ advantage. Ancelotti made some changes of his own, with new signing Eduardo Camavinga setting up Rodrygo to score the winner, just as he did last season, with a minute left of regulation time.
It is certainly a hard blow to take, but the team’s Champions League journey has only just begun.
Scorer: Rodrygo 89.
INTER (3-5-2): 1 Handanovic; 37 Skriniar, 6 De Vrij, 95 Bastoni; 36 Darmian (2 Dumfries, 55), 23 Barella (8 Vecino, 84), 77 Brozovic, 20 Calhanoglu (22 Vidal, 65), 14 Perisic (32 Dimarco, 55); 9 Dzeko, 10 Lautaro (19 Correa, 65).
Subs not used: 21 Cordaz, 97 Radu, 5 Gagliardini, 7 Sanchez, 11 Kolarov, 13 Ranocchia, 33 D’Ambrosio.
Coach: Simone Inzaghi.
REAL MADRID (4-3-3): 1 Courtois; 2 Carvajal, 3 Militao, 4 Alaba, 6 Nacho; 15 Valverde, 14 Casemiro, 10 Modric (25 Camavinga, 80); 17 Vazquez (21 Rodrygo, 65), 9 Benzema, 20 Vinicius Jr (11 Asensio, 90+1).
Subs not used: 13 Lunin, 40 Fuidias, 5 Vallejo, 7 Hazard, 16 Jovic, 22 Isco, 24 Mariano, 27 Blanco, 35 Gutierrez.
Coach: Carlo Ancelotti.
Booked: Lautaro, Alaba.
Stoppage time: 1+2.
Assistants: Foltyn, Gittelmann.
Fourth official: Schlager.
Assistant VAR: Osmers.