Schalke 2 – 1 Inter – Schalke comfortably progress but Inter’s problems continue

Inter Milan travelled to Germany knowing that they would need to score a minimum of four goals in order to progress but the European champions never looked like this thought crossed their mind as they crashed out of the competition last night. Schalke however revelled in the space afforded to them and their 7-3 aggregate victory swept them to their first ever Champions League semi-final to face Manchester United.

The news before the game for Inter Milan was as positive as it could be with Lucio returning to the starting line-up after suspension and Jefferson Farfan missing for Schalke also through suspension. Lucio had been a critical miss in the first leg and it is hard to envisage that Inter would have shipped five had the big Brazilian been present. Indeed Lucio seemed to be the only Inter player aware of the task facing the Italian club as he battled and struggled hard throughout, although sometimes in a less than fair manner. Involved in numerous off the ball incidents with former Real Madrid striker Raul, the central defender was finally booked after half an hour.

The rest of the first half passed in a fairly calm manner for the German side. Inter were rarely able to threaten through the middle and the diamond formation chosen by Leonardo meant that there was very little width. Aside from Samuel Eto’o, who drifted to the left flank to pick up the ball and run at the Schalke defence almost no balls came into Manuel Neuer’s box from wide positions. The German team were able to sit back and retain their shape quite comfortably and launch counter-attacks when convenient without ever losing their form.

However, just as in the first leg Schalke were able to expose a dramatically frail Inter backline. Just before half-time Raul ran between the two Inter centre-backs who were hopelessly out of position, latched on to the Jurado through-ball and danced round Julio Cesar before slotting the ball home. The mountainous task already before Inter became an impossibility with that goal.

After half-time Dejan Stankovic was withdrawn to make room for Goran Pandev as Leonardo frantically rearranged the deck-chairs on the Titanic. Sadly the Inter players didn’t manage to up their tempo despite getting a goal ten minutes in, making the aggregate score 6-3 at that point. The goal was simplicity itself as Wesley Sneijder’s corner was knocked down by Lucio and stabbed home by Thiago Motta.

Even after the goal Schalke continued to be the more dangerous force, as Raul and Jurado were very much in control of the game. The winning goal was nothing less than they, and especially Raul, deserved. The Spanish veteran was magnificent in tormenting the Inter defenders as he set up Benedikt Howedes for an absolute howitzer of a shot past Cesar in goal. Schalke will find a much sterner test in Manchester United who will be very unlikely to concede seven goals but this was a fully deserved victory for a confident looking side.

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