Liverpool set foot in the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over Inter Milan, which came after a hard-fought encounter in a bustling San Siro.
Goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah in the last 15 minutes gave Liverpool a commanding lead for the second leg of the last 16 at Anfield in three weeks.
The result was tough for Italian champions Inter, who dominated the game for a long time after the break in front of a passionate home crowd, slamming the woodwork through Hakan Calhanoglu in the 16th minute.
However, they couldn’t make their way past a Liverpool backline impeccably drafted by Virgil van Dijk and were penalized late by a Reds side who have now won their last seven games in all competitions.
“A difficult place to come, a very good team, difficult to break down and I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the crowd. A good result to bring back to Anfield,” Van Dijk told BT Sport.
“Everyone expects to be under pressure, it’s the Champions League. The message before that was that you have to be ready to suffer and do the hard work. It’s a very good performance, clean slate and happy days.”
The last eight now seem a step too far for Inter after making it to the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in a decade, leaving Juventus the only real hope of success in the competition for Italy.
“I think it was a good game and we can be proud of the way we played against one of the best teams in the world. For 65-70 minutes we deserved the win,” said Inter coach Simone Inzaghi after the match. match against reporters.
– Liverpool strikes late –
Inzaghi’s side started with all the enthusiasm expected of a team back in the knockouts after such a long time away and Lautaro Martinez got the crowd on their feet in the fifth minute with a long range effort that flew just wide .
Liverpool reacted almost immediately and established territorial dominance, with a shot from Salah well blocked and Thiago Alcantara firing over from the edge of the box.
However, it was Inter who had the best chance of the half via Calhanoglu, who, after being fed by the furious Ivan Perisic, fired a shot from a tight angle, which defeated Alisson but blasted off the crossbar.
Ten minutes later they were out of luck again when Denzel Dumfries, after attacking from the right flank, flashed over a low cross that had been cut just as it was looking to find the feet of an unmarked Edin Dzeko.
Inter came out with the bit between their teeth after the break and swarmed over an evidently nervous Liverpool, but again were unable to get past Van Dijk and his company, who kept getting a foot or head in just when danger threatened.
Perisic hung in the 52nd minute over a stunning cross that Martinez couldn’t quite get to, and a similar pattern was repeated several times, with Liverpool turning down an increasingly frustrated Inter team unable to convert its supremacy into goals.
The away side punished them with their first real chance of the second half, as Firmino defeated Alessandro Bastoni in the 75th-minute corner from Andy Robertson and led his header past Samir Handanovic.
Perisic flashed a distance attempt just over, but then Salah gave Liverpool a huge advantage eight minutes after Firmino’s opener with a lucky attack that snaked home and gave the Egyptian an incredible eighth goal in seven Champions League games this season.
With the San Siro atmosphere thoroughly deflated, Liverpool calmly looked out for the rest of the game, almost securing a place in next month’s draw for the last eight.