Marko Arnautovic makes big impact to give Inter edge over Atletico Madrid in last-16 tie

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Marko Arnautovic makes big impact to give Inter edge over Atletico Madrid in last-16 tie
Marko Arnautovic's effort came 11 minutes from time at the San Siro
Marko Arnautovic's effort came 11 minutes from time at the San Siro
AFP
Marko Arnautovic (34) ensured Inter Milan drew first blood in their UEFA Champions League round of 16 first-leg tie against Atletico Madrid, as his goal secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory at the San Siro - with the Nerazzurri claiming a ninth win in a row across all competitions.

Atletico head coach Diego Simeone will always be inextricably linked with Italian football, returning to a club where he tasted UEFA Cup glory in the 1997/98 season, and reuniting with former Lazio teammate Simone Inzaghi in the opposition dugout.

The duo won a memorable Serie A and Coppa Italia double together with the Biancocelesti almost 24 years ago, and there were many complimentary words from both camps heading into this clash.

That respect transmitted itself onto the pitch in the opening exchanges, with very little in the way of clear goalscoring opportunities. Inter sought to break forward with gusto on several occasions, without applying the finishing touch, while the visitors arguably had the best chance in the opening half hour when Samuel Lino curled his shot wide of the post.

Lautaro Martinez was coming to the fore in this contest, as his header from Nicolo Barella’s cross was saved by Jan Oblak, before Jose Maria Gimenez blocked a separate effort from the Argentine. As the half wore on, the hosts were starting to find their rhythm, but Inzaghi would have been concerned to see the threatening Marcus Thuram hobbling around as the first period came to a close.

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Inter were forced to withdraw Thuram from proceedings during the interval, and he was replaced by Arnautovic. The Austrian almost made an immediate impact after being superbly picked out by Federico Dimarco, but his acrobatic attempt sailed over the bar. Meanwhile, Simeone had an injury woe of his own to contend with, taking off Gimenez and bringing on Stefan Savic. 

Arnautovic wasted another golden opportunity to break the deadlock following a delightful one-two with Martinez, but agonisingly missed the target again. The long-awaited breakthrough came courtesy of Arnautovic, who will not care one iota about the scrappy nature in which it materialised.

Martínez’s initial effort was parried by Oblak into the Bologna loanee’s path, and neither Lino nor the Atletico shot-stopper could prevent his angled effort from hitting the net. Lino almost restored parity seconds later, rifling a ferocious long-range strike inches wide of the target.

Inzaghi’s side held onto their slender aggregate lead going into the second leg on Wednesday, March 13th, with the tie perfectly balanced as the two sides face other again in the Spanish capital.

It may have been an unhappy return to Milan for Simeone, but his hopes of leading the Colchoneros to a third UCL final remain very much alive.

Flashscore Man of the Match: Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan)

Inter - Atletico player ratings
Flashscore

Check out the match stats here.

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