For the 4th time in 5 years Inter and Napoli faced each other in the Coppa Italia Quarter Finals - all of them played at the San Paolo - and for the first time since 1997 the Nerazzurri were able to take home the win during regulation time to advance to the Coppa Italia semifinals.
Napoli wanted to start the match in the best way possible, trying to create as many goal scoring chances as possible to take lead early and then playing the remaining time of the match with less stress. But after a few minutes of total supremacy by the Azzurri who weren't able to create as much as they would have wanted to, Inter started to get the grip on the game escaping from the constant and exhausting pressing by the Napoli players. In particular, they made sure that Kondogbia and the wingers Biabiany and Perisic always had a hard time getting the ball and passing it to the teammates. The French midfielder was by far the worst player on the pitch in the first 45 minutes, but I must admit that his fellow Nerazzurri rarely helped him and passed him the ball even if he was in a bad position to receive the sphere.
Attacking-wise Inter never worried Napoli too much in the first half. The Azzurri always made sure that their opponents developed their movements in the middle of the pitch rather than on the wings, crowding whichever Inter player had the ball to make him lose it and then counter-attacking right away.
The Partenopei started the second portion of the match with less enthusiasm than in the first one, allowing Inter to play at a slower and more comfortable pace. The Nerazzurri instead looked considerably more determined putting much more pressure on the Napoli players, who had a harder time trying to keep the ball and creating chances.
The first shot for Inter came just at the 65th minute and even if Reina saved Jojo's try without any problem, it was the first sign that the away team finally started to find some openings in a very solid Napoli defense so far. In fact, 10 minutes later, the Montenegrin punished the opponent's keeper with a surgical strike from 25 yards, and put his team up in a match that was very balanced at that moment.
Then the Azzurri furiously tried to even the match at the earliest possible moment, especially through Gonzalo Higuain who who was subbed in just 3 minutes prior the goal, but they failed to create situations dangerous enough to worry Samir Handanovic and El Pipita picked up a yellow for reacting too vigorously to a foul called against him. The urge to score made the Napoli players very nervous, especially Mertens, who was booked twice within 9 minutes, forcing him to leave the match two minutes before the 90th.
Ljajic finally closed the game in the 92nd minute, with a perfectly executed counter-attack which saw him sprinting from the center line to the edge of the box and thumping a low, precise shot to the bottom-left corner of the goal. What was great about this goal wasn't the finish, but the running. Adem, with the ball in his feet, outran Hysaj after playing 92 minutes and despite that, he was still enough clear headed to beat the keeper shooting the ball where he couldn't touch it. Brilliant.
During the celebrations of Ljajic's goals, something happened between Mancini and Sarri and both were asked to leave the pitch after a heated exchange of words. I won't talk about Mancini's post-game accusations towards Sarri here because it's a very thorny topic and it requires a much more accurate analysis, which is covered in another article here on our blog.
We all know there can't be a true Inter match without a miraculous save by Samir Handanovic, right? The Slovenian giant denied Higuain the joy of scoring in the 94th minute, reaching up to tip the ball over the crossbar and leaving the Argentinian angry and empty-handed.
Getting the win at the San Paolo, against Napoli, which currently is the best team in Italy and without conceding goals against the best attack in the Serie A is absolutely great. It may have not been the prettiest performance by Inter, but it was solid. Every one of the players on the pitch looked on the same page, especially in the second half, and that made it much more difficult for the Azzurri to find the spaces they needed to punish their opponents. The former Fiorentina pair of Jovetic and Ljajic on the other hand took advantage of the few scoring chances they had and they were clinical, a thing this Inter team lacked in the matches against Atalanta and Sassuolo and which costed them 5 points.
Now Inter have to wait for Juve and Lazio to face each other tomorrow to know who will be their opponent in the semifinals of this Coppa Italia. The first leg will be next Wednesday.