The Champions League Knockouts Beckon As Italian Clubs Soar In Undefeated Run


Inter Milan has qualified for the UEFA Champions League (UCL) Round of 16 with two group games remaining as all four Italian clubs went unbeaten on match day four.

A late penalty by Lautaro Martinez sealed Inter’s spot in the knockout stage with a 0-1 away win in Salzburg, the Nerazzurri progressing alongside Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and fellow Group D side Real Sociedad. Inter boss Simone Inzaghi brought Martinez on in the 68th minute, the Argentine converting from the spot five minutes from the end of the game when the Beneamata were awarded a penalty for a handball.

“Qualifying for the Round of 16 with two games to spare makes us very proud, Inzaghi told Amazon Italia. “It had not happened for a while. We are satisfied, but also know that there are still another two matches to play and we won’t underestimate them.”

Martinez has scored 12 times in 11 Serie A games this season and gave Inter the lead minutes after smashing the bar with an earlier chance. It’s the second consecutive victory against Salzburg in two weeks for Inter who last season reached the final to enjoy their most successful UCL campaign since lifting the trophy in 2010.

Inzaghi’s side kept its ninth clean sheet for 2023-24 and has lost just once throughout 15 competitive fixtures. Inter leads Juventus, Milan and Napoli in the Serie A standings.

It might come down to the final game in Naples

Serie A champions Napoli drew 1-1 with Union Berlin, the Germans coming from behind to end an absurd 12-game losing streak at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. Matteo Politano put Napoli in front in the 39th minute with his reaction header but David Datro Fofana levelled in the second half to prevent the Partenopei from clinching second spot in Group C.

Despite dominating with 72% of possession and racking up 27 shots, Napoli was unable to find the winner, forcing Union’s Frederick Ronnow to save on only five separate occasions.

Napoli was still without top-scoring forward Victor Osimhen, the Nigerian due back in December and could be available for the final group game against Braga. With manager Rudi Garcia under fire following Napoli’s mediocre start to the season, his side scored in somewhat fortunate circumstances as Mario Rui’s cross deflected off a Union defender and hit Politano’s face to ricochet in from close range.

Ballon d’Or nominee Khvicha Kvaratskhelia could have won it late but was denied by Ronnow leaving Napoli five points adrift of Real Madrid in second position. Garcia may have to count on more input from Politano, the right winger scoring his sixth of the campaign in all competitions. Giacomo Raspadori, who fired home the winner in the reverse fixture in Berlin, has also taken on goalscoring responsibilities of late with three in his last four games.

Union remains in last place but made strides by clinching their first point in the UCL, meaning that victory over third-placed Braga could earn them a spot in the Europa League, aiding Napoli’s progression. Regardless, the Azzurri’s fate remains in their own hands. Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s team travels to already-qualified Madrid on match day five, then hosts Braga (three points) in Naples.

Ciro Il Grande lands milestone goal

Lazio got revenge on Dutch side Feyenoord with a 1-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Ciro Immobile converted his 200th club goal to keep coach Maurizio Sarri’s hopes of advancement alive, the Biancoceleste moving up to second in Group E.

“We played a match in which we were at our best, even in moments of suffering,” Sarri told Sky Sport in reference to heavy criticism from the Italian press in recent weeks.

Despite Friday’s loss to Bologna in the Italian league, Lazio rebounded brilliantly through their captain’s goal in first-half stoppages. Immobile beat Feyenoord’s offside trap to round goalkeeper Justin Bijlow, finishing clinically from a difficult angle. The win gives the Laziali much-needed momentum in the lead-up to the Derby della Capitale.

Lazio, who lost 3-1 in the reverse fixture, are second behind Atletico Madrid on seven points. The Spaniards thrashed Celtic 6-0 to all but end the Hoops’ chances of demotion to the Europa League. Sarri can secure a spot in the knockouts with triumph at home over the winless Scots should Atletico defeat Feyenoord on match day five.

If there are multiple teams level after the group stage has finished, the first tie-breaker is the head-to-head record, followed by goal difference in the head-to-head record.

Leao and Giroud overcome Kylian Mbappé’s PSG

Milan boosted their chances of progressing for the second year running following a solid come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Paris Saint Germain (PSG) in Group F.

Olivier Giroud’s thumping header handed the Rossoneri their first Champions League win of the season, the Frenchman racking up a third consecutive aerial goal in a week, his 275th overall at club level.

The 37-year-old netted the winner for the 92nd time in his career from Theo Hernandez’s cross five minutes after the break. Former Inter defender Milan Skriniar opened the scoring for PSG courtesy of a Marquinhos flick-on with Milan’s defence caught napping. Rafael Leao promptly equalised with an overhead kick from close range after Giroud’s initial shot was saved.

Still in contention

With the win, Milan leaped over Newcastle United into third with five points. The English side was beaten by Borussia Dortmund who overtook PSG at the top of the group. Il Diavolo can arrest the Germans with another win at the San Siro in late November, however, it may come down to the final match away to the Magpies at St James’ Park.

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