RB Salzburg 0-1 Inter Milan: Late penalty from Lautaro Martínez sends Inter Milan into the knockout stages of UEFA Champions League

Seeking to register a fifth unbeaten match on their travels across the UEFA Champions League for the first time since February 2005, Simone Inzaghi surprisingly demoted Inter Milan’s top-scorer across all competitions this season, Lautaro Martínez, to the substitutes’ bench in favour of Marcus Thuram.

On the other hand, RB Salzburg had only suffered defeat on a solitary occasion across their last seven European encounters against Italian opposition at the Red Bull Arena – but more importantly, they had failed to beat a club from the same country across their previous three UCL encounters.

SAL: Schlager; Dedić, Baidoo, Pavlović, Ulmer; Bidstrup, Gourna-Douath, Sučić, Gloukh, Capaldo; Konaté, Šimić

INT: Sommer; Bisseck, Acerbi, Bastoni; Darmian, Frattesi, Çalhanoğlu, Mkhitaryan, Augusto; Thuram, Sánchez

Never before on the losing side in a hat-trick of UEFA Champions League matches in front of the Bulls’ home contingent, RB Salzburg were assertive in their pursuit of the game’s opening goal with Roko Šimić and Mads Bidstrup seeing their opportunities instinctively saved by Inter goalkeeper Yann Sommer and fly wide of the mark.

That trend of the hosts looking the more likely to break the deadlock continued as the contest approached the half-hour mark as the aforementioned figure of Sommer was forced into two quick-fire saves from the respective boots of Luka Sučić and then captain Andreas Ulmer.

Protecting an undefeated record in the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League campaign, Inter Milan struggled in their attempts to force Alexander Schlager into action as defender Yann Aurel Bisseck unleashed a fearsome strike straight into the Salzburg goalkeeper’s arms in the 33rd minute, to subsequently register the visitors’ first strike on goal in the contest.

In a different fashion to the opening 45 minutes, it was Inter Milan’s turn to fly out of the dressing room for the commencement of the second half as Schlager did well to prevent Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s fearsome free-kick from hitting the back of the net before Davide Frattesi headed the eventual rebound straight at Schlager.

Within six minutes of Inter’s rejuvenated resolve in front of goal, Salzburg again threatened Sommer’s goal at the opposite end of the pitch but Karim Konaté ended up coming out second best in his one-on-one duel with Sommer, as the Ivorian international’s search for his first-ever UCL goal continued.

Inter then came close to netting the game’s only goal with 13 minutes left of regular time, however, Schlager was again up to the challenge, with the Salzburg number one sublimely redirecting Kristjan Asllani’s fearsome long-range strike away from registering as the game’s winning goal on scoresheet.

Nonetheless, Schlager was helpless to prevent the Italian footballing powerhouses from securing all three points, and subsequently their place into the knockout stages in the 86th minute, as second-half substitute Lautaro Martínez confidently fired home from the penalty spot after Bidstrup was adjudged by referee Serdar Gözübüyük to have handled the ball in the area.

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Martínez’s ninth away goal for Inter in the UEFA Champions League moves the Nerazzurri to within goal difference of Real Sociedad at the summit of Group D. In contrasting fortunes, third-placed RB Salzburg and bottom side Benfica will now go one-on-one with the winners entering the Europa League at the elimination stage.