Inter 4-0 Viktoria Plzen: Dzeko-inspired Nerazzurri cruise into last 16
Inter Milan confirmed their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League and simultaneously eliminated Barcelona after cruising to an Edin Dzeko-led 4-0 win over Viktoria Plzen.
The Nerazzurri knew they would be through regardless if Barcelona failed to win later in the day at home to Bayern Munich, but Simone Inzaghi's men removed all doubt with a professional display in San Siro.
Initially there were hints of nervousness when Inter spurned a couple of first-half opportunities, but Henrikh Mkhitaryan gave them the breakthrough before Dzeko ensured it was effectively game over – for Plzen and Barcelona – by half-time.
A clinical Dzeko finish just past the hour was then added to by a late Romelu Lukaku strike on his return from injury as Inter eased into the next round.
Inter's persistence paid off in the 35th minute following a frustrating first half-hour.
Alessandro Bastoni charged up the left and crossed after a one-two with Federico Dimarco, and Mkhitaryan was on hand to nod in at the back post.
Dzeko ducking out of the way proved crucial to Mkhitaryan getting that opportunity, though the Bosnian soon had a goal of his own.
Dimarco latched on to Nicolo Barella's exquisite long-range pass and played a first-time ball into the danger zone for Dzeko to tap home close to half-time.
Mkhitaryan nearly added a spectacular second just after the break, his 25-yard effort clipping the outside of the post.
But Dzeko did double his tally, guiding a controlled left-footed effort into the bottom-left corner from the centre of the box following good work by Lautaro Martinez.
Substitute Lukaku then found the same corner in the 87th minute with an emphatic finish after two months out.
What does it mean? Inter pile on the misery for Barcelona
Inter's four points from two games against the Blaugrana ultimately proved decisive in the Nerazzurri pipping them to last-16 qualification.
No doubt Barcelona would rather have been playing at the same time as Inter, with there something even more embarrassing about elimination before you have even played.
While a lot of focus will clearly be on Barca, Inter's progression is something of a statement – arguably written off by many when the draw was made, they will remain in the Champions League in 2023.
Dimarco a key outlet
Dzeko may hog the headlines with his two-goal haul, but Dimarco deserves praise for his performance.
The left wing-back was involved in both of Inter's first two goals and tallied five key passes in total, more than anyone else on the pitch.
Lukaku back with a bang
It took Lukaku just four minutes to mark his return to action, and he did so in trademark fashion.
The Belgian brilliantly held off his man on the edge of the box, played a one-two with Joaquin Correa and slammed past Jindrich Stanek. It was the icing on the cake for Inter.
Key Opta Facts
- After a run of just one win in nine home matches in the UEFA Champions League (D5 L3), Inter have since won four of their last six at San Siro (L2).
- This was Inter's largest margin of victory in the UEFA Champions League since September 2010, when they defeated Werder Bremen by four goals to nil at home.
- Henrikh Mkhitaryan's six goals in the Champions League have been scored for four different clubs – Shakhtar Donetsk, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United and Internazionale, with today's his first for Inter; only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (6) and Hernán Crespo (5) have scored for more different teams in the competition.
- Only Cristiano Ronaldo (12) has scored more goals in the Champions League after turning 35 years of age than Džeko (6). Aged 36 years and 223 days, the Bosnian became the third-oldest player to score a brace in the competition after Filippo Inzaghi (37 years 86 days) and Cristiano Ronaldo (36 years 270 days).
Inter are at home to Sampdoria in Serie A on Saturday, before concluding their Group C campaign away to Bayern next Tuesday when Plzen host Barcelona in a dead rubber.