Arnautovic gives Inter slender Champions League advantage over Atletico

Inter Milan’s French forward #09 Marcus Thuram fights for the ball with Atletico Madrid’s Belgian midfielder #20 Axel Witsel (R) during the UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg football match Inter Milan vs Atletico Madrid at the San Siro stadium in Milan on February 20, 2024. AFP

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.

Austria striker Arnautovic replaced Marcus Thuram at half-time and 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.

“It is certainly one of the most important goals of my career,” said Arnautovic to Sky Sport.

“In recent weeks I’ve missed a lot of chances. But the fans and the players showed they are behind me… It gave me the energy I needed to score the goal.”

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.

“We have to keep our heads up, there is one game left and we are going to do everything possible to to get through,” said Oblak to Movistar.

“They had two or three chances when we weren’t perfect and in a game like this you have to be perfect all the time.”

Arnautovic redeemed

A cagey first half between two resolute teams left fans with little to shout about, with only a few pot shots getting supporters 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.

PSV old boy Malen earns Champions League away draw for Dortmund

Dutch striker Donyell Malen snatched a vital goal to earn Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund a 1-1 draw away at his old club PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League last-16 first-leg on Tuesday.

PSV, runaway unbeaten leaders of the Dutch Eredivisie, were left to rue a plethora of first-half missed chances and now have it all to do in the second leg in Germany.

The big question pre-match was which Borussia Dortmund would show up: the team that topped the Champions League ‘Group of Death’ or the outfit struggling for consistency in the Bundesliga?

And it was a cagey opening in an intimidating atmosphere in Eindhoven, the home fans letting off a volley of fireworks at kick-off.

When the smoke cleared, the hosts had the better of the opening exchanges, Mexico international winger Hirving Lozano causing the Dortmund defence headaches down the left.

PSV midfielder Malik Tillman squandered two gilt-edged chances in front of goal, once firing wide after a clever through-ball from veteran Dutch striker Luuk de Jong.

And the visitors punished PSV’s profligacy, taking the lead against the run of play in the 24th minute when Malen squeezed a deflected shot into the top corner.

Malen had been prolific for the Dutch giants, scoring 55 goals in all competitions in just 43 games, and chose not to celebrate in front of PSV’s hardcore fans.

The misfiring Tillman somehow then contrived to miss another goal that looked easier to score, this time with a header right in front of goal.

Then it was Belgian international winger Johan Bakayoko’s turn to fluff a shot wide, with the home fans starting to wonder if it was going to be one of those nights as they went into the break 1-0 down.

PSV haven’t lost at home all season and started the second half on the front foot.

They were soon level.

Tillman redeemed his earlier errors by winning a penalty in the 56th minute, which De Jong slotted calmly past Alexander Meyer.

Dortmund defenders were incensed at the penalty award, insisting that veteran central defender Mats Hummels had nicked the ball before bringing down Tillman.

The equaliser opened the game up, with chances at both ends, a flick by Dortmund’s Marius Wolf forcing a sharp save from Walter Benitez in the PSV goal.

With 15 minutes to go, Bakayoko danced through the Dortmund defence but failed to get any purchase on his shot.

It summed up the night for PSV who will be left wondering what could have been.

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