Arnautovic gives Inter Milan narrow advantage in Atletico last-16 tie

A late goal from substitute Marko Arnautovic gave Inter Milan a 1-0 home victory against Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.

The Austria striker, who had replaced the injured Marcus Thuram at halftime, redeemed himself after several missed chances by squeezing the ball home after Lautaro Martinez’s shot was saved by goalkeeper Jan Oblak in the 79th minute.

It was only the second time the teams had played each other, with Atletico winning 2-0 in the UEFA Super Cup back in 2010.

Inter dominated the match and although Atletico had their chances the home side’s solid defence prevented the visitors from getting any attempts on target.

Samuel Lino had Atletico’s first opportunity but his right-footed curler went just wide of the far post.

Ahead of the interval Martinez and Thuram had openings to break the deadlock for Inter but also came up against a resilient defence, with attempts blocked or saved by Oblak.

Inter started the second half on the attack as Federico Dimarco supplied a cross to Arnautovic, who slid in slightly late and ballooned the ball over from close range.

Just after the hour the home fans again expressed their frustration as Arnautovic, having found himself free in front of goal, sent another effort over the crossbar before the villain became the hero of the night with his late winning goal.

For the visitors, Alvaro Morata headed wide from six yards out in the final minutes after getting on the end of Angel Correa’s deep cross.

Inzaghi: We regret winning with just one goal

Simone Inzaghi gestures from the sidelines
Image:
Simone Inzaghi gestures from the sidelines

Inter Milan boss Simone Inzaghi:

“This match leaves us with good feelings about the extraordinary performance of the lads against a great opponent. We regret having won with just one goal because it will be an intense match in Madrid. I’m happy for Arnautovic; he’s working very well.

“We had a good first half – not exceptional – against great opponents. In the second half we were not good for the first 10 minutes but then we were amazing with players coming in and giving us great help.

“In this six months we have done very well but the most important months are March and April. The lads have to continue like this. I like to see them training but we know that difficulties will come: tight matches, tiredness, some players will suffer injuries. But we have to continue to work like we are doing now.

“Our performance was very good because we were facing a physical and technical team. It wasn’t easy at all. Now we will have another difficult game in Madrid. There is regret because we deserved something more.”

Simeone: They took advantage of a mistake

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone:

“We competed quite well. We were close to what we were looking for, to block a bit of the very good attack that a team like Inter is generating. In the end they took advantage of many situations where we lost balls to counterattacks and created good goalscoring chances.”

More from Simeone on the goal: “That’s the marvellous thing about football: you can prepare what you want to prepare, but in the end it’s people, they are individual players. Good things happen and so do bad, and today they [Inter] took advantage of a mistake between Rodrigo [de Paúl] and Ray [Reinildo].

“We have to keep improving, we have to keep winning duels, we have to keep running with more intensity and improving. And from that, the good things will come.”

Atletico’s home record keeps tie in balance

Arnautovic reacts after missing an earlier chance
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Arnautovic reacts after missing an earlier chance

Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds:

It is now nine wins in as many games in all competitions in 2024 for Inter Milan – but they were made to sweat for this latest one.

Simeone’s side will be content to return to Madrid with the tie in the balance. His side were second best throughout this first leg, and were indebted to Oblak for keeping Inter at bay until Arnautovic’s intervention 11 minutes from time.

For the Italians, it is now nine clean sheets in their last 14 Champions League games, and they weren’t troubled at all by Antoine Griezmann and co.

Atletico have demonstrated they are supremely difficult to beat on home soil, and it is still all to play for.

Mkhitaryan: We’ll have to play to win again

Lautaro Martinez and Stefan Savic challenge for the ball
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Lautaro Martinez and Stefan Savic challenge for the ball

Inter Milan midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan:

“We have another match to play; 1-0 counts for little even if it was nice to win. We created as much as possible to try to score goals but we knew that we were playing against a strong team who play and defend well.

“We go to Madrid with the lead but we will have to play to win again, as if we hadn’t scored tonight. We have to do our best to continue last year’s path; we want to reach the final again.”

Imperious Inter – Opta stats

Arnautovic broke the deadlock in the second half
Image:
Arnautovic broke the deadlock in the second half

  • Inter Milan have won seven of their last nine UEFA Champions League games on home soil (D2), as many victories as they picked up in their previous 21 (D5 L9).
  • Atletico Madrid have lost each of their last two knockout clashes with Italian sides in European competition, also losing to Juventus in March 2019 in the UEFA Champions League (0-3), after winning each of the five before that.
  • Inter Milan are the first Serie A side to win each of their first nine games of a calendar year in all competitions since Juventus in 2016 (10).
  • Atletico Madrid failed to direct a single shot on target in a UEFA Champions League game for the first time since their quarter-final first leg clash with Manchester City in April 2022.

What’s next?

The return leg will be on March 13 at the Wanda Metropolitano, kicking off at 8pm.

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