Inter Milan have progressed to the semifinals of a major European competition for the first time in a decade after seeing off Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 on Monday in the Europa League's makeshift tourney in Germany.
If UEFA fancied a glowing advertisement for the continent's secondary showcase, that's exactly what transpired at the Merkur Spiel-Arena in Dusseldorf.
Former Manchester United mates Ashley Young and Lukaku combined well in the 15th minute before the latter’s blocked effort ricocheted to Barella, who struck a curling attempt with the outside of his right boot that eluded a lunging Lukas Hradecky.
Barella was gifted another prime opportunity shortly thereafter, firing at Hradecky from close range as Inter applied pressure to Leverkusen’s back four.
Conte’s charges were awarded for their persistence minutes later when Young found Lukaku with a pinpoint line-breaking pass. Lukaku corralled the ball with his back to the goal, and as Edmond Tapsoba hauled the towering striker down, the Belgian spun his robust frame before firing a dribbling shot into the far corner.
The moment perfectly illustrated Lukaku’s strength, and Tapsoba would see plenty of it on the night. The lumbering 27-year-old should have made it 3-0 minutes later when Hradecky was forced to make a diving save during a one-on-one situation.
In what could have been his final match with the club, Havertz sliced the two-goal advantage in half with 20 minutes left in the opening stanza. The Chelsea target combined with striker Kevin Volland to produce his 18th goal of the season in all competitions.
VAR came to Leverkusen’s aid in the 26th minute when match official Carlos Del Cerro Grande consulted the pitchside monitor to overturn a harsh handball decision against left-back Daley Sinkgraven. Del Cerro would watch replays to overturn another Leverkusen penalty in the latter stages.
Both managers made positive changes at the hour mark. Peter Bosz made an attacking substitution, bringing on sprightly Jamaican winger Leon Bailey for midfielder Exequiel Palacios, while Conte tabbed Christian Eriksen and Victor Moses in place of Roberto Gagliardini and Danilo D’Ambrosio.
Alexis Sanchez was introduced minutes later for Lautaro Martinez, and the energetic Chilean narrowly missed reclaiming the two-goal advantage twice in a matter of seconds.
The last time Inter appeared in a continental final, Diego Milito scored twice as the Nerazzurri beat Bayern Munich 2-0 to win the 2009-10 Champions League.