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Icardi stuns Barcelona with late equaliser, but Catalans progress to round of sixteen

Radja Nainggolan (L) of FC Internazionale is challenged by Sergi Roberto of FC Barcelona during the Group B match of the UEFA Champions League between FC Internazionale and FC Barcelona at San Siro Stadium on November 6, 2018 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)
by Samindra Kunti, AIPS Media

MILAN, November 6, 2018 - Inter Milan held FC Barcelona 1-1 at the San Siro on Tuesday after a late strike from Mauro Icardi cancelled out Malcolm’s goal. The result sends the Spanish into the round of sixteen. Inter Milan remain second on seven points.

Highest revenue - European elite football remains brisk business and whatever questions may linger over the idea of a European super league Inter fans sold out the San Siro for their club’s first-round Champions League encounter with FC Barcelona, earning the Milanese club a gate of more than 5.8 million euros, the highest ticketing revenue in Italian history. "With more than 5.8 million euros, tomorrow's match will record the highest gate in history for an Italian team,” tweeted Inter Milan on Monday. The previous record belonged to Roma, who had raised 5.2 million euros for last season’s European Cup semi-final against Liverpool.

No Messi - All those fans packed the stands long before kick-off to come and see Inter take on the best player in the world, but, alas, for a giddy San Siro Messi didn’t feature in Milan. The Argentine, returning from injury, had travelled to Italy, but didn’t even make the bench. In the starting eleven Rafinha made way for Ousmane Dembele. Luciano Spalletti’s line-up had no surprises: Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan had recovered from his ankle injury and played alongside Marcelo Brozović and Matias Vecino in a 4-3-3 formation. Miranda was benched again at the back for Stefan De Vrij and up front Matteo Politano got the nod alongside Icardi and Perisic.

Barcelona dominant - It seemed from the start just a matter of time before the Catalans would score. Inter were lax in possession and thus prone to Barcelona’s attacking trident. In the second minute Samir Handanovic prevented Dembele from scoring with a swerving shot from the right channel. Luis Suarez nearly did with an act of split-second improvisation, but in the scared silence of the San Siro his lob sailed just wide. For the hosts, Ivan Perisic proved to be industrious on the left and on one of his forays he teed up Kwadwo Asamoah, but the young left back was wasteful. As in the first leg, Inter were toothless in the final third as Mauro Icardi scarcely got on the ball.

Attacking festival - The hosts struggled to build from the back as Barcelona applied their skill set of pressing, positioning and passing to outclass Inter. Even Sergio Busquets pressed Handanovic inside the keeper’s own box. By the half-hour mark the Nerazzurri became stretched. Suarez took the attacking mantle and mentored Dembele to his right. The Uruguayan popped up left and center of the attacking line as Barcelona offered ‘a festival of attacking football’ according to a zealous Spanish radio commentator, but all of Barcelona’s intensity and conviction was not enough to break the deadlock before the interval.

Politano's chance - Inter hadn’t learned their lesson and both Brozovic and Asamoah turned over the ball too easily, but Philippe Coutinho, twice, and Ivan Rakitic spurned good goal-scoring opportunities. Substitute Borja Valero, who had contributed so little a fortnight ago at the Camp Nou, injected Inter with some momentum and in the 65th minute Politano should have punished Barcelona’s prodigal form, but somehow contrived, running between the central defenders, to head Perisic’s weighted cross wide. Earlier on, Vecino’s surprise was such that he failed to properly connect with a loose ball in the Barcelona box.

Icardi strikes- As the rain subsided and Barcelona’s onslaught relented Inter gained a measure of control, but Barcelona’goal, which had seemed inevitable all night, finally arrived in the 83rd minute from the foot of substitute Malcolm. The Brazilian had plenty to do when Coutinho drove the ball forward, but with a few touches he worked an opening and scored with a cracking low shot. Barcelona’s lead lasted just for minutes as Icardi pounced after clumsy defending in the Catalan box to draw Inter level. The Inter striker held off Sergio Roberto with nifty footwork, spun and coolly slotted home.

Barcelona progress - The result was hard on Barcelona, who had outclassed their opponents for much of the game, playing some of the fine football that has become their trademark in recent years, but on 10 points they will progress to the knockout stage as Tottenham Hotspur defeated PSV Eindhoven 2-1.

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