Inter made sure they will feature in their first ever Europa League semi-final after a highly entertaining 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen at the RheinEnergieStadion on Monday evening.
First half goals from Nicolo Barella and Romelu Lukaku gave the Nerazzurri a two-goallead before Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz brought the Bundesliga club back into the contest, though VAR twice denied Inter the chance to double their lead.
Antonio Conte’s men will now face either Shakhtar Donetsk or Basel, who meet on Tuesday evening, in the semi-final as they look to continue their quest for silverware in this unusually long season.
After an evenly matched opening quarter of an hour the contest sparked into life in a frenetic 11 minute period that saw three goals and a penalty decision overturned by VAR.
The Nerazzurri were the first to find the target when Barella’s deft long range shot found the bottom corner after some fantastic work inside the box by Lukaku, and only six minutes later the Belgian himself doubled Inter’s lead, once again showing tremendous strength before turning the ball past Lukas Hradecky in the Leverkusen goal.
Despite the early set back the Werkself hit straight back only moments later when Havertz found himself with a clear run on goal, the 21-year-old made no mistake as he hammered the ball through Samir Handanovic, who should have done better.
The early drama was still not over as Inter were awarded a penalty after Daley Sinkgraven was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area, despite having had his arm behind his back.
Lukaku stepped up to try and restore the Nerazzurri’s two goal lead, but before he could take aim VAR stepped in to, correctly, overturn the decision.
Both teams continued to play the remainder of the first stanza at breakneck pace but found clear cut chances hard to come by, and would go into the break with just the one goal separating them.
As the second half kicked off it seemed unthinkable that the pace could continue in the same vain as the first 45 minutes, but with neither the Nerazzurri or the Werkself in the mood to let up, the contest continued to be a frantic end-to-end encounter.
However, with both defences having found their rhythms the opening 20 minutes passed with only long range efforts providing light work for the men between the sticks.
The introduction of Alexis Sanchez and Victor Moses by Conte in the final quarter of the match provided the answer to unlocking the Leverkusen defence for Inter as they looked to extend their lead, but they found Hradecky equal to the task in the Werkself goal.
Leverkusen continued to press for an equaliser in the closing stages but it was Inter that looked like they would be handed the chance to put the contest to bed in the 90th minute when they were awarded their second penalty of the evening.
Lukaku again stepped up to the spot, but was again denied the opportunity to find the target with VAR spotting a handball in the build up to the penalty incident.
That proved to be the final drama of what had been a frenetic contest and the final whistle was met with muted celebrations by exhausted looking Inter players.