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Inter rides luck to progress, leaving plucky Porto in tears

Updated: 2023-03-16 09:15
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Porto's Mehdi Taremi (front) and Inter Milan's Francesco Acerbi entangle during Tuesday's match in Portugal. AFP

PORTO, Portugal — Heroic defending and the woodwork helped Inter Milan reach the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time in more than a decade.

Inter managed a 0-0 draw at Porto on Tuesday to progress 1-0 on aggregate and join city rival AC Milan in the last eight. Napoli could become the third Italian team in the quarterfinals, with the Serie A leader due to face Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday.

All the drama was saved for the fifth minute of stoppage time as a goal-line clearance, the post and the crossbar prevented Porto from snatching the goal that would have taken the match to extra time.

"In soccer, luck matters relatively," Inter coach Simone Inzaghi said. "I think that over the both legs we deserved to get to the quarterfinals, we didn't concede a goal in the 180 minutes against a team that's used to playing these sorts of matches.

"We shouldn't forget that last year we reached the round of 16 for the first time after more than 10 years, this year the quarterfinals … Now we will play with a lot of confidence."

The Italians have only won one game on the road in 2023 and Inzaghi is under pressure, but progression to the quarterfinals buys him more breathing space.

There were few other concrete chances at the Estadio Do Dragao as Inter did enough to ensure it advanced to the final eight for the first time since going out at that stage as the defending champion in 2011.

"There are so many emotions right now, after so many years we are proud of this achievement," Inter midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu said. "We made some mistakes but we did a great job, it was very difficult but I congratulate the team for the great job."

Inter has faced criticism for its domestic form but Calhanoglu said this game provided a morale boost.

"Anything can happen in the Champions League — this match restores motivation for us," he added.

"We did a great job, we didn't score but we worked hard until the final whistle and we qualified."

Several Porto players dropped to the turf in tears at the final whistle.

"I think it's normal to cry after you're eliminated like this, it's normal because my players play with passion," Porto coach Sergio Conceicao said. "They should be proud of how they played these matches, I think we were superior to Inter.

"I'm feeling a mixture of great pride and great frustration. I'm frustrated, sad … I have the same feelings as the fans here at the stadium and at home."

There are no further restrictions on teams from the same country facing each other so the two Milan sides could be pitted against each other when the draw is made on Friday — just like they were in the semifinals in 2003, when eventual champion Milan emerged the victor.

Romelu Lukaku had scored the all-important goal at the San Siro but he started on the bench on Tuesday as Inter coach Inzaghi opted for Edin Dzeko alongside Lautaro Martinez up front.

And Dzeko had the best of the few Inter chances in the 22nd minute but his effort was saved by Porto goalkeeper Diogo Costa.

Porto could have already been in front by then as Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana got the slightest of touches to push Mateus Uribe's swerving shot around the post in the third minute and also reacted well to smother a scuffed Stephen Eustaquio effort.

The Inter defense dealt well with the Porto pressure but almost got caught out on the counterattack midway through the second half when Matteo Darmian — who was suffering from cramp and on a yellow card — rushed back to make a perfectly timed, last-ditch tackle.

Porto poured forward in the seven minutes of stoppage time and had three incredible chances in the space of a minute. Ivan Marcano's shot was cleared off the line by Inter defender Denzel Dumfries before Onana pushed Mehdi Taremi's header onto a post. Moments later, a Marko Grujic header came off the crossbar.

Porto defender Pepe was sent off two minutes later following a second yellow card.


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