Ruthless Ronaldo punishes mistakes as Lukaku's absence leaves Inter looking lost

By Sports Desk February 02, 2021

Antonio Conte muttered to himself and looked rather resigned as Arturo Vidal angrily gestured towards him while being replaced by Christian Eriksen on Tuesday. Perhaps he realised his errors had already done irreparable damage.

Juventus went on to put one foot in the Coppa Italia final with a 2-1 win at Inter in their semi-final first leg, with Conte seemingly made to rue a tactical set-up that invited pressure in the absence of talisman Romelu Lukaku.

While Inter's second-half display in San Siro showed evidence of Conte wising up to his team's problems, it was too little, too late as the Nerazzurri were unable to rescue a game lost in the first half.

A chief component of Inter's struggles here was rooted in last week's quarter-final win over bitter rivals Milan, as Lukaku's much-discussed altercation with Zlatan Ibrahimovic resulted in a yellow card for the Belgian.

The pair went head-to-head in ugly scenes that were accentuated by the lack of a crowd, every word of Ibrahimovic's questionable antagonising audible thanks to the television cameras and microphones.

Whether Lukaku's reaction was justified is a discussion for another day, but beyond doubt is the fact he was sorely missed by Conte's men, whose lack of an out-ball left them without options.

Alexis Sanchez, who ultimately remained with Inter at the end of the transfer window despite links to Roma, was the man chosen to partner Lautaro Martinez and the Chilean initially showed reason for optimism.

After holding the ball up admirably and working space on the break in the ninth minute, Sanchez fed Nicolo Barella up the right flank and his low cross was turned home by Martinez – his shot creeping under the hand of Gianluigi Buffon's hand.

It wasn't the ideal way to celebrate the 43-year-old's 1,100th professional game, but the Inter defence ensured the spotlight wouldn't be on Buffon's error for long.

First, Ashley Young took centre stage a little over 15 minutes later, bizarrely opting to haul back Juan Cuadrado in the box despite Federico Bernardeschi's cross always looking incapable of doing any damage, and Ronaldo slammed the resulting penalty right down the middle.

Ronaldo then capitalised on a mix-up between Alessandro Bastoni and Samir Handanovic, robbing the defender and slotting in from a tight angle outside of the box with the goalkeeper stranded.

Inter dug their own hole with their poor decision-making, and without Lukaku they were without the means to haul themselves out.

Neither Young nor Matteo Darmian on the flanks – the latter in for the absent Achraf Hakimi – could offer any kind of attacking support in the first half, with both failing to deliver a single cross before the interval.

Then, with Sanchez and Martinez largely unable to impose themselves against the physically dominant Merih Demiral and Matthijs de Ligt, Inter's options when looking to move out from the back were minimal.

And that was another issue – in the first half, Inter were very deep and endured great difficulty trying to play through Juve's press. It might have been effective with players potentially trying to get in behind the visitors' defence, but Andrea Pirlo's side subjugated their hosts virtually throughout the opening half.

Conte's tweaks at the break saw Inter's backline move further up the pitch and that certainly seemed to improve their standing in the match – Juve's share of the possession going from 63 per cent in the first half to just 40 in the second.

Similarly, Inter's shot count rocketed from two at half-time to 11 at the end, and, to be fair, Sanchez should have taken one of those when his goal-bound effort was stopped on the line by Demiral.

Additionally, Buffon made amends for his first-half error by making a crucial stop to deny Darmian, but otherwise there were few moments when Juve looked especially worried defensively.

On another day perhaps Inter would have done enough to at least keep themselves on level terms ahead of the second leg, but Conte's negative set-up left them at a disadvantage right from the off.

Lukaku will return for the next game, but Juve's away goals advantage gives them a significant edge – Conte has much work to do.

Related items

  • Bellingham makes more history with England opener against Serbia Bellingham makes more history with England opener against Serbia

    Jude Bellingham became the second player to score at the World Cup and European Championship before turning 21, with the opening goal against Serbia at Euro 2024.

    The Real Madrid midfielder opened the Three Lions' account in Germany, heading home Bukayo Saka's cross in the 13th minute of the Group C clash.

    Bellingham followed in the footsteps of compatriot Michael Owen, who found the net at the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship before turning 21.

    The first European player to make an appearance at three major international tournaments before turning 21, the 20-year-old is also the first Three Lions player to score at both tournaments while playing his club football outside England.

    His strike, timed at 12 minutes and 11 seconds, was also the quickest Serbia have conceded at a European Championship, since Frank Arnesen scored seven minutes and five seconds into their match against Denmark in 1984.

  • No changes as Brazil confirm final Copa America squad No changes as Brazil confirm final Copa America squad

    Dorival Junior has stuck with the same 26-man squad he provisionally selected for Brazil's 2024 Copa America campaign.

    Juventus' Bremer, Atalanta midfielder Ederson and Porto forward Pepe were all called up when CONMEBOL announced the squads were being expanded from 23 players to 26.

    The Brazilian had already had to make changes after Manchester City's Ederson was ruled out due to an injury sustained at the end of the Premier League season, with Rafael brought in to replace him.

    Lucas Paqueta also keeps his place after the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) confirmed he would be allowed to stay with the squad despite being charged by the England Football Association (FA) for allegedly breaching betting rules.

    Casemiro, Gabriel Jesus and Thiago Silva had already been left out of the provisional squad announced in May, while Richarlison and Neymar are both missing due to injury.

    Brazil are nine-time winners of the Copa America and will begin their campaign against Costa Rica on June 24 before also facing Paraguay and Colombia in Group D.

    Final Brazil squad: Alisson (Liverpool), Bento (Atletico PR), Rafael (Sao Paolo), Beraldo (PSG), Bremer (Juventus), Eder Militao (Real Madrid), Gabriel (Arsenal), Marquinhos (PSG), Danilo (Juventus), Yan Couto (Girona), Guilherme Arana (Atletico MG), Wendell (Porto), Andreas Pereira (Fulham), Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle), Douglas Luiz (Aston Villa), Ederson (Atalanta), Joao Gomes (Wolves), Lucas Paqueta (West Ham), Endrick (Palmeiras), Evanilson (Porto), Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal), Pepe (Porto), Raphinha (Barcelona), Rodrygo (Real Madrid), Savinho (Girona), Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid).

  • Portugal v Czechia: Ronaldo prepared to give everything, says Martinez Portugal v Czechia: Ronaldo prepared to give everything, says Martinez

    Cristiano Ronaldo is prepared to give everything in what could be his final major tournament as Portugal prepare for their Euro 2024 opener against Czechia, says Roberto Martinez. 

    The 39-year-old continues to prove that age is just a number, scoring 35 goals in 31 appearances for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League in 2023-24, and he will be a key cog for the Selecao in their quest to replicate their 2016 success.

    Portugal cruised through qualifying and were the only team to win all of their group fixtures, and arrive in Germany among the frontrunners to lift the trophy on July 14, despite falling short at their last three major tournaments. 

    Ronaldo's influence on the side remains despite his decision to leave Europe, and Martinez believes his presence is an advantage both on and off the pitch. 

    "We have 23 players. We create competitiveness and the game makes decisions," he said.

    "But Cristiano is prepared to help the team and give everything he can give. And there is no other player in the world of soccer who can bring what Cristiano can to the dressing room."

    When asked about Ronaldo's international career, Martinez continued: "There are not many players who have achieved what he's achieved.

    "He is an example in many ways. To be the only player to reach more than 200 games for your country – that's something that is not going to be achieved easily.

    "What surprised me about Cristiano is that he always defies his age.

    "After every session, the technical staff and I will be amazed that a player who's achieved everything, who could have the choice of what effort he puts in training, is driven by winning, is obsessed by being the best, is obsessed about that perfection that he wants to achieve in his career. That's contagious."

    Czechia are taking part in their 11th European Championship and will be hopeful of emulating their run to the quarter-finals of the competition in 2020 as Ivan Hasek takes charge for his first tournament. 

    The 60-year-old understands the enormity of the task ahead of his side, believing Tuesday's encounter will be a valuable experience for his players when they come up against the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

    "It's not just Ronaldo. If you take a look at the team, it's clear to see that many of their players play for some of the best clubs in the world," said Hasek.

    "They are dangerous. We need to prepare thoroughly. It's also important to know and understand their strengths and weaknesses, which I will keep to myself.

    "Although I believe we can play against any team, Portugal do have dominant strengths. It would be quite an experience for any coach [to play against Ronaldo] because he is one of the best players in history.

    "It's a valuable experience for anyone to play against him and I am not the only one looking forward to it."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo

    Since 1972, Ronaldo has scored or assisted twice as many goals as any other player at the Euros, with 20 in total (14 goals, 6 assists), 10 more than Michel Platini who is in second. 

    The veteran forward holds the records for most games (25), most goals (14), joint-most assists on record (six – since 1972) and most editions with at least one goal (five) at the European Championships. Ronaldo is also the European player with the most appearances at major tournaments, with 47. 

    Czechia – Patrik Schick

    Patrik Schick scored five of Czechia’s six goals at Euro 2020, becoming only the second Czech player to be the sole or joint-top scorer at a Euro tournament, after Milan Baros at the 2004 edition. 

    The 28-year-old scored seven goals in 20 appearances for Bayer Leverkusen as they secured a maiden Bundesliga title last term, just outperforming his xG by 0.96. 

    MATCH PREDICTION – PORTUGAL WIN

    Portugal arrive in Germany as one of the favourites to secure a second Euros title following their maiden success in 2016, and their qualifying campaign suggests they have what it takes. 

    Martinez's side were the only team to win all of their games to make their ninth appearance at the tournament, scoring more goals than any other team (36) while attaining the best defensive record (two goals conceded in 10 games).

    Portugal are also the only team to reach the knockout stages of the Euros at each of the last seven editions, a run stretching back to the 1996 tournament, and have always emerged from the group stages when appearing at the competition. 

    Czechia are hoping to secure their first victory over their opponents since their maiden meeting at Euro 1996, with Karel Poborsky's goal sealing their place in the semi-finals. 

    Only two of the Czechs' last 24 matches at the Euros have ended in a draw (10 wins, 12 defeats), with both coming against Croatia during the group stages of the 2016 and 2020 editions of the tournament. 

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Portugal – 66.2%

    Czechia – 17.9%

    Draw – 15.9%

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.