Antonio Conte praised Inter for their approach to Thursday's Europa League second-leg win over Ludogorets in the round of 32 after being made to play the game behind closed doors.

Goals from Cristiano Biraghi and Romelu Lukaku earned Inter a 2-1 victory at an empty San Siro after Cauly opened the scoring for Ludogorets, who trailed 2-0 from the first leg.

Fears over the coronavirus outbreak in Italy meant supporters were not allowed to attend the match and Inter head coach Conte admitted the tie had an eerie feel to it.

"I've also played behind closed doors with Italy against Croatia," he told Sky Sport Italia. "The atmosphere is strange and doesn't make things easy as it's like a training session.

"I have to say that my players took the right approach today, even if we fell behind. We made changes, giving other players some minutes, and now we move on."

Inter's home league clash with Sampdoria last weekend was postponed in wake of the virus spreading, while Sunday's blockbuster trip to Serie A leaders Juventus will also be behind closed doors in Turin.

Conte's Nerazzurri lost their last league match 2-1 to second-placed Lazio and trail Juve by six points with a game in hand to play.

Conte admitted the Derby d'Italia clash, as well as an the upcoming trip to Napoli, will go a long way to determining just how close his side are to seriously challenging for silverware.

"We started this run of games and there is an important match coming up against Juventus," he said.  "Once we reach the end of this period, we'll understand how distant we are from a winning level. 

"I am convinced this will give us more clarity on where we are now, the length of the road ahead of us and the work that still needs to be done."

Inter started with a back three against Ludogorets but reverted to a flat-back four in the second half, with Christian Eriksen and Marcelo Brozovic linking up in central midfield.

"We need to work on the ideas and have had time in training," Conte said. "The postponement of the game with Sampdoria last week gave us time to test out something new, which can be used either at the start of a match or during the 90 minutes.

"When you have two strikers, it's inevitably harder work for the midfielders. For those who play with one centre-forward, two wingers or a trequartista, there are more players ready to help cover defensively. We always need to find the right balance depending on the characteristics of the opponents we are up against."

Inter recovered from a goal down to beat Ludogorets 2-1 at an empty San Siro and seal a 4-1 aggregate victory in Thursday's Europa League last-32 tie.

Antonio Conte's men took a two-goal lead into the second leg, which was played behind closed doors due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

Cauly profited from some sloppy defending to halve the deficit with 26 minutes played, but Cristiano Biraghi squeezed in a deflected effort from an angle after being played in by Eriksen to level things up on the night.

Romelu Lukaku edged the Italian club ahead with a strange goal just before half-time and competition favourites Inter saw things through to book a place in Friday's last-16 draw.

Lukaku, who had also scored a late penalty in last week's first leg after Christian Eriksen's opener, failed to beat Plamen Iliev from a one-on-one five minutes into this return match. 

Bulgarian champions Ludogorets gave themselves some hope when Cauly held off Diego Godin and fired past Daniele Padelli at his neat post via the underside of the crossbar.

But Inter restored their two-goal aggregate margin 188 seconds later as Biraghi's drilled effort from the left went in via a deflection off visiting defender Georgi Terziev.

Lukaku then atoned for his earlier miss by scoring a bizarre fourth goal of the tie for Inter, with the ball ricocheting off his body while on the floor after his initial header was saved.

Alexis Sanchez played a big part in that goal and struck the frame of the goal with a 25-yard drive early in the second half.

Lukaku was also denied by a mixture of Iliev and the post five minutes later but, a near-miss from substitute Mavis Tchibota aside, Inter had little trouble in seeing out a second victory on the bounce ahead of Sunday's trip to Juventus.

 

What does it mean? Inter regain some momentum

Successive wins against Ludogorets, either side of Sunday's postponed league clash with Sampdoria, has given Inter some much-needed momentum after back-to-back losses.

This weekend's trip to Juventus has officially been given the go ahead and Conte's men know that defeat in Turin could kill off their Scudetto title hopes, making it a truly huge game.

Lukaku's fine form continues

Lukaku's goal may have been fortunate, but he linked up well with Sanchez in the build-up and now has 23 for the season in all competitions.

The Belgium international joins Samuel Eto'o as the only Inter players to have scored at least two goals in four different competitions in a single season, excluding qualifiers.

Calamity defending for Ludogorets' opener

Godin claimed he was shoved off the ball by Cauly for the visitors' goal, but the VAR officials agreed with the referee's assessment and let it stand.

Not only was the veteran centre-back caught out, captain Andrea Ranocchia also failed to close down the Ludogorets goal-scorer and Padelli was easily beaten at his near post.

What's next?

Inter travel to Serie A leaders Juventus on Sunday in another behind-closed-doors match, while Ludogorets head to Arda the same day as they close in on a ninth successive Bulgarian First League title.

Juventus' derby d'Italia against Inter will be one of five Serie A matches played behind closed doors this weekend due to ongoing fears over the spread of the coronavirus in Italy.

Milan's home fixture with Genoa, Udinese against Fiorentina, Parma's clash with SPAL and Brescia's trip to Sassuolo will also kick off in front of empty stadiums.

Inter's Europa League last-32 second-leg tie at home to Ludogorets on Thursday also took place without fans in attendance and a Serie A statement on Thursday confirmed their trip to Allianz Stadium would do likewise.

The Nerazzurri's fixture against Sampdoria was postponed last weekend in one of four Serie A abandonments.

Towns in northern Italy have been on lockdown after 229 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with seven people having died.

Speaking prior to the Ludogorets fixture, Inter boss and former Juve coach Antonio Conte told Sky Italia: "I think playing behind closed doors is not beautiful

"Football needs the public and to feel the whole atmosphere around it. It is the most beautiful thing.

"Having said that, we refer to the decisions made for health reasons, but I hope that everything will return to normal as soon as possible."

Inter are six points adrift of leaders Juve with a game in hand. 

Antonio Conte admitted games are not the same without the presence of fans as Inter prepare to host Ludogorets at an empty San Siro on Thursday.

UEFA announced Inter and Ludogorets will meet behind closed doors in the second leg of their Europa League tie due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

And Inter travel to title rivals Juve just three days later, with six points separating the sides as third visits first in Serie A.

It has not yet been confirmed whether fans will be allowed to attend the Derby d'Italia, but Nerazzurri coach Conte is keen to see supporters allowed inside the Allianz Stadium.

"I think playing behind closed doors is not beautiful," Conte told Sky Sport Italia. "Football needs the public and to feel the whole atmosphere around it. It is the most beautiful thing.

"Having said that, we refer to the decisions made for health reasons, but I hope that everything will return to normal as soon as possible."

The outbreak of the virus, which originated in China, saw Inter's clash with Sampdoria one of four Serie A fixtures to be postponed last Sunday.

But after returning to action against Ludogorets, Conte's side have a crucial stretch with matches against Juve and then Napoli, who hold a 1-0 first-leg lead in the Coppa Italia semi-finals.

"We have a very concentrated schedule," Conte said. "The fact that the match with Samp has been postponed changed the situation a bit.

"But we trained to prepare for this cycle of matches: only at the end will we see what Inter can do."

UEFA has confirmed all their other matches this week are unimpacted by the coronavirus outbreak after the decision for Inter's Europa League match against Ludogorets to be played behind closed doors.

Inter and Ludogorets will clash in the second leg of their last-32 tie at San Siro on Thursday without any supporters present due to concerns over the spread of the virus in Italy, where there have been more than 300 cases and 11 deaths.

The confirmation of the match taking place behind closed doors was taken on Tuesday and followed the clash between Antonio Conte's side and Sampdoria being one of four Serie A fixtures postponed on Sunday.

But there will be no restrictions for attending supporters or alterations to fixtures for any of the other Europa League matches on Thursday or the two Champions League contests taking place on Wednesday.

"All other UEFA matches scheduled this week will go ahead as planned and at this time there are no restrictions for attending supporters," read UEFA's statement.

"UEFA will continue to closely monitor the situation regarding Covid-19 and to liaise with relevant authorities in this respect."

UEFA has announced Inter and Ludogorets will meet behind closed doors at San Siro in the second leg of their Europa League tie on Thursday.

The decision has been taken by the governing body due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Two people have died in the country while reports say dozens more have tested positive.

Bulgarian champions Ludogorets had demanded assurances that it was safe to travel to Milan in a statement released on Sunday, calling on UEFA to provide swift clarification.

Inter, who won the first meeting 2-0 thanks to goals from Christian Eriksen and Romelu Lukaku, will stage the return fixture without any fans present inside the famous venue.

"Earlier in the day, the Milan club sent a letter to Ludogorets, announcing that the city's health authorities allowed the match to be held without fans," a statement on Ludogorets' website read.

"The European headquarters informs Ludogorets that it will demand the decision of the Milan medical authorities. UEFA also announces that it is monitoring the situation in Northern Italy and will react immediately if changed.

It was confirmed by Inter in a statement on Monday that no spectators will be present for the encounter.

Inter's clash with Sampdoria was one of four Serie A fixtures to be postponed on Sunday, while there are doubts over whether their upcoming trip to Juventus will go ahead.

Italy prime minister Giuseppe Conte has said all of the top-tier Italian games, including the blockbuster showdown in Turin, could be called off due to the virus, which originated in China.

Bulgarian champions Ludogorets have demanded assurances that it will be safe to travel to Milan for Thursday's Europa League clash with Inter after Italy's coronavirus outbreak.

Christian Eriksen and Romelu Lukaku scored as Inter beat Ludogorets 2-0 in the first leg in Bulgaria, but reports have already suggested the San Siro return match could be played behind closed doors.

Inter's game against Sampdoria on Sunday was postponed over local health concerns, with Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte confirming the fixture was one of several that would not go ahead.

Italy is battling to contain the virus, which is officially named Covid-19, after the deaths of two people and confirmation that dozens more have tested positive.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Ludogorets expressed their concern and appealed to Inter and UEFA to provide swift clarification.

The statement said: "FC Ludogorets have formally asked UEFA and FC Inter about the situation in the Italian region of Lombardy, whose capital is Milan. Coronavirus-infected cases have been reported there in recent days.

"More than 600 supporters of the Bulgarian champions are expected to support their favourites at the San Siro on Thursday (February 27) in the rematch of the 1/16 finals of the Europa League.

"Many of them have already purchased plane tickets, and there is organised bus travel from Bulgaria to Italy.

"Ludogorets expect an official statement from the European headquarters and a quick explanation from Inter about the situation in the city. If received, the club will immediately notify supporters of the situation in Milan by a message on its official website.

"PFC Ludogorets will liaise with Bulgarian diplomatic authorities on the situation in Italy."

Christian Eriksen is yet to reach peak physical condition after joining Inter from Tottenham, according to head coach Antonio Conte.

Eriksen, who signed for the Serie A club in January, scored his first goal for Inter in Thursday's 2-0 Europa League last-32 win away at Ludogorets.

The Denmark international opened the scoring with a fine strike and also hit the crossbar with a powerful drive before Romelu Lukaku's late penalty put the Nerazzurri in complete control ahead of next week's second leg in Milan.

However, Conte feels there is a lot more to come from Eriksen.

"I'm happy for him, the goal always gives confidence," Conte told Sky Sport Italia after Inter bounced back from successive domestic defeats in Bulgaria.

"Christian just needs to work to find the right physical condition, to find the brilliance of his best moments at Tottenham.

"He can do even more than what he showed us today, but we are very happy because we know what he can give us."

Inter were again without goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, although deputy Daniele Padelli was completely untested as Ludogorets mustered only a single shot.

"It is a situation that we monitor day by day," Conte said of Handanovic, who has a hand injury.

"We have confidence in Daniele Padelli, and when he is ready to resume his place, he will. Until then, we continue with Padelli."

Christian Eriksen's first goal for Inter helped Antonio Conte's men earn a battling 2-0 away win against Ludogorets in the opening leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.

The Serie A side were not at their best at Ludogorets Arena on Thursday but scored the opener from the best move of the match, Eriksen curling home from the edge of the box.

January signing Eriksen hit the crossbar from distance and Romelu Lukaku's late penalty confirmed a victory for the Nerazzurri that saw them bounce back from successive domestic defeats.

Inter, who began with Lukaku on the bench, struggled to impose themselves in the opening exchanges but Ludogorets goalkeeper Plamen Iliev had to make a smart stop to keep out Cristiano Biraghi's volley in the 25th minute.

The upright kept out Alexis Sanchez's clever flick after the restart, then Lautaro Martinez lashed a long-range strike narrowly over the crossbar as Inter increased the tempo.

Iliev made another fine save to turn away Eriksen's bouncing 20-yard volley, but the goalkeeper could do nothing about Inter's first goal in the 71st minute.

Sanchez and substitute Lukaku were involved in patient passing in the build-up, with Eriksen sweeping an excellent finish out of Iliev's reach.

It was almost 2-0 moments later as Eriksen's thumping drive beat Iliev but not the woodwork, Lukaku's arrival having given Ludogorets more to think about in defence.

Ludogorets, who were without their star striker Claudiu Keseru due to injury, failed to record a shot on target and face an uphill battle at San Siro next week after Lukaku converted from 12 yards in added time following Anicet Andrianantenaina's handball.


What does it mean? Inter get the job done

After consecutive defeats in the Coppa Italia and in Serie A to Napoli and Lazio respectively, Inter again found it difficult to produce their best football but they ground out a much-needed win. It is doubtful whether Conte values Europa League success over the Scudetto, though.

Iliev unlucky to miss out on clean sheet

Ludogorets had their backs against the wall for much of the game and relied on goalkeeper Iliev to keep them in the tie. He made a handful of excellent stops in a superb individual showing.

Martinez unable to justify Messi praise

Labelled "spectacular" by Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi in the build-up to the game, reported Barcelona target Martinez made very little impact before he was replaced by regular strike partner Lukaku.

What's next?

Ahead of next week's second leg, Inter host Sampdoria on Sunday while Bulgarian league leaders Ludogorets are away to Etar on the same day.

Christian Eriksen can help to raise Inter's collective level once he adapts to the side, according to head coach Antonio Conte.

The Denmark international has featured five times for Inter since completing a reported €20m (£16.9m) move from Tottenham in the January transfer window.

He has been restricted to one start and has yet to score or assist a goal for his new club, but Conte has called for patience before seeing the best of Eriksen in an Inter shirt.

"I see too much anxiety and little serenity," he said at Wednesday's news conference. "There is great serenity on our part. 

"The player wants to make himself available and we are calm.

"Every single player must think about improving himself, without thinking about who is next to him. We need individual growth, which can be put into the collective."

Conte will wait until Thursday before deciding whether to start Eriksen in the first leg of Inter's Europa League last-32 tie with Ludogorets.

Alexis Sanchez is also in line to feature from the start at Ludogorets Arena and Conte expects to see more from the on-loan forward once he gets a run of games under his belt.

"He has come back from a bad injury - he's been out for three months," Conte told reporters. 

"He is recovering well and is ready to start the game. We are talking about a player who hasn't played much in the last two years.

"He has to find the best physical shape and in this way it can help us achieve our goals."

Inter make the trip to Bulgaria on the back of just a second Serie A loss of the campaign last weekend, a 2-1 defeat to Lazio seeing them drop to third in Serie A.

"We were disappointed by the result, but not the performance," Conte said. "Lazio are one of the form sides in Italy right now.

"We put in a good performance and resume with our belief and our desire to improve - that must be our only objective.

"We're in Europe and it's right to give it our best, respect the competition as much as possible."

The full draw for the Europa League's round of 32 is: 

Wolves v Espanyol

Sporting CP v Istanbul Basaksehir

Getafe v Ajax

Bayer Leverkusen v Porto

Copenhagen v Celtic

APOEL v Basel

Cluj v Sevilla

Olympiacos v Arsenal

AZ v LASK Linz

Club Brugge v Manchester United

Ludogorets v Inter

Eintracht Frankfurt v Salzburg

Shakhtar Donetsk v Benfica

Wolfsburg v Malmo

Roma v Gent

Rangers v Braga

The first legs will take place on Thursday 20 February, with the return fixtures scheduled for a week later.

Club chiefs will return to Nyon for the last-16 draw on February 28.

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