Inter Out of Champions League After Failing to Win Against Shakhtar

Inter approached their final Champions League group match against Shakhtar Donetsk with a squad brimming with world-class talent, and recent results unbefitting a team of their caliber. It was the rarest of UCL fixtures. Both teams maintained chances of qualification to the knockout stages, yet both could be out of the competition by the 90 minute’s end. The stage was set for a drama.

Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk are by now veterans of the competition. They’ve qualified for the competition every year since 2000. Boasting a squad featuring plenty of South American talent, they’ve charged up the European ranks. Their recent 2-0 victory over football behemoths Real Madrid served as further proof of their capability. On the other hand, Inter just returned to the UCL in 2018.

Antonio Conte lined-up his team in his trademark 3-5-2 formation. Achraf Hakimi, excellent this week against Bologna, starred as their right wing-back. Lautaro Martinez also returned to the fold at the expense of Alexis Sanchez.

Meanwhile, Shakhtar started in a brave 4-3-3 formation, ready to press intensely into the Italians’ half. It was a tactical plan that was soon adjusted with the Ukrainians dropping deeper and relying on counterattacks.

It should also be noted that their highly-technical Brazilian front three are not natural strikers, but chosen for the roles nonetheless by manager Luis Castro.

Both teams started the first half strongly motivated, but the quality of Inter’s squad was evident. Their pressing allowed them to cut out Shakhtar’s attacking intent. Their wing-backs, Ashley Young and Hakimi, often found space to plant vertical passes on to the feet of Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku.

Still, by the game’s mid-point, none of the teams had managed to gain an edge. Martinez came closest to scoring, but his shot ricocheted off the cross-bar. Later, Lukaku crossed for the Argentinian who failed to beat goalkeeper Anatoli Trubin from six-meters. These wasted chances would soon prove costly.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians held on by the skin of their teeth. With the ball bouncing in and on of Shakhtar’s box, Castro’s men focused their energy solely on defending and breaking on the counter-attack.

At the break, Conte’s team still needed to win in order to advance. Shakhtar looked towards keeping the game level. Their hopes relied on Borussia Monchengladbach managing to even out the scoring against Real Madrid.

Inter had been the better team, but if scoring a winning goal seemed a mere formality after 45 minutes, it was to become an unjumpable hurdle.

The Nerazzurri launched themselves forward. Shots on goal followed in quick succession. The Italians had 20 shots in total, 12 of them on target. Lukaku, Hakimi, Brozovic all came close to putting the ball in the back of the net.

As time elapsed a few things became clear. Real Madrid was not going to lose their lead to Gladbach. Shakhtar were happy to hold on to a draw and continue in the Europa League. Inte were facing a wrecked evening in which no matter the effort involved, the winning goal appeared fated to slip away.

Alexis Sanchez was sent in to try and save Inter’s blushes, but a late-game header sailed just over the bar. Christian Eriksen, another last-minute addition, also came close to scoring, as did Martinez. But, not even Handanovic’s willingness to travel all the way to the opposition’s box could save the Italians.

It finished all square in a game that Inter dominated both technically and tactically. Shakhtar Donetsk had some opportunities to score on the counter-attack. For the most part, however, they looked happy to salvage a draw which they, eventually, celebrated enthusiastically.

Inter finish bottom of the group and will be left wondering just where it all went wrong for them. Conte’s team won only one game and drew three. Apart from their matches against the Ukrainians, they never managed to keep a clean sheet. They dominated Real Madrid in both encounters and lost each time, while Shakhtar won against Los Blancos twice.

Perhaps, these are the most telling statistics. In spite of benefiting from the experience of a great manager and numerous highly-rated players, Conte’s classical masterclasses failed to translate into points. Bad luck surely played its part, but Inter’s failure to even qualify for the Europa League cannot be justified with excuses.



December 9, 2020 – Champions League 2020-21 Group Stage

INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni (85′ D’Ambrosio); Hakimi (85′ Darmian), Barella, Brozovic, Gagliardini (77′ Sanchez), Young (68′ Perisic); Lautaro Martinez (86′ Eriksen), Lukaku (Stankovic, Radu, Kolarov, Sensi, Ranocchia) Coach: Conte
SHAKHTAR DONETSK (3-4-3): Trubin; Bondar, Stepanenko, Vitao (83′ Khocholava); Dodo, Maycon, Kovalenko, Matviyenko; Tete (65′ Solomon), Marlos (66′ Alan Patrick), Taison (87′ Dentinho) (Shevchenko, Pyatov, Marcos Antonio, Marquinhos, Bolbat, V’Yunnik, Sudakov) Coach: Castro
REFEREE: Vincic (Slovenia)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Gagliardini, Hakimi, Brozovic (I), Vitao, Trubin (S); Extra Time: First Half 1′, Second Half 4′