It may have taken 119 minutes of the full 120, but Inter Milan booked their spot in the final eight of this season’s Coppa Italia. A very tense and sometimes static match saw Antonio Conte’s men narrowly dodge a penalty shootout thanks to Romelu Lukaku’s goal just minutes from the final whistle. While it may not have been the most simple match, Inter did find the winner without risking any key starters by playing them for the full 120 minutes. This comes ahead of Sunday’s showdown against Juventus, who also left it late in their Coppa match against Genoa. The victory in Florence also confirms a Coppa Italia Derby della Madonnina, which the Nerazzurri will host.
As is for most earlier rounds of the Coppa Italia, it was expected that both Conte and Fiorentina’s Cesare Prandelli would field heavily rotated starting lineups. For Inter, only four starters from Sunday’s draw away to AS Roma started in Florence. The four being Samir Handanovic, Milan Skriniar, Arturo Vidal, and Lautaro Martinez. Conte’s initial plan, however, was to only have three of Sunday’s starters taking the field, but Stefano Sensi was removed from the initial lineup just before kickoff with a calf problem. Fiorentina were also forced into a similar alteration, as former Inter midfielder Borja Valero picked up a knock in the warmup and had to be replaced by former Milan midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura.
FIORENTINA (3-4-2-1): Terracciano; Milenkovic, Martinez Quarta, Igor; Caceres, Castrovilli, Amrabat, Biraghi; Bonaventura, Eysseric; Kouame.
INTER (3-5-2): Handanovic; Skriniar, Ranocchia, Kolarov; Young, Gagliardini, Eriksen, Vidal, Perisic; Sanchez, Lautaro.
Continuing on from recent matches, Inter held much of the impetus in the early moments of the first half. Much of the action came through the Nerazzurri’s right side, where Ashley Young slotted in as right wingback. A couple of searching crosses from the Englishman and a couple of blocked shots from the strikers were all the visitors could muster in the opening 30 minutes. The breakthrough came shortly after the 30 minute mark, after a Christian Eriksen shot from distance was saved by Pietro Terracciano but pushed back into the Fiorentina penalty area at the feet of Alexis Sanchez. Fiorentina’s backup goalkeeper was then adjudged to have fouled the Inter striker as he made a follow-up effort on goal which hit the post. The passage of play, which was not initially called a penalty, was given as a penalty after referee Davide Massa resorted to VAR.
The subsequent penalty was lashed home by Arturo Vidal, his first goal for Inter. His penalty conversion also put to bed the penalty issues that have recently arisen when Inter players not named Romelu Lukaku have taken spot kicks. Both Lautaro Martinez and Alexis have missed penalties recently, Lautaro at the end of last season and Alexis in the recent loss to Sampdoria.
Just a few minutes later, Massa was back at the pitch-side monitor, reviewing a Skriniar tackle on Christian Kouame that he initially called a penalty. Upon review, the tackle appeared to be clean and the penalty call was overturned. After the overturned penalty, Inter made their way into the dressing room with the halftime lead.
Inter again came out in the second half with the objective of attacking. A valuable chance just a minute in was put wide by Lautaro Martinez after some great pressure by the midfield and wingback Ivan Perisic resulted in the home side losing the ball in their own half. Perisic then delivered a perfect cross into Lautaro, who controlled the ball but put it wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The visitors came to rue the big miss just ten minutes later, when a rare Fiorentina corner was bundled around in the box before falling to former Inter Primavera striker Kouame on the edge of the penalty area, who lashed home an absolute rocket into the roof of Handanovic’s net to level the match.
After making one substitution before the goal, Conte began to make more substitutions soon after the equalizer. Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku entered the pitch on 69 minutes for Young and Martinez. These subs came at a crucial time, as Fiorentina had been growing into the match starting before the Kouame rocket. The two subs then almost linked up for the go ahead goal, which Hakimi poked just wide after playing a smooth one two with Lukaku. Another golden opportunity came on 79 minutes, as Alexis could not cleanly get on the end of a dangerous Perisic cross.
Fiorentina had a few jabs of their own in the final 15 minutes. Hakimi crucially cut out a ball in behind the Inter defense for the red hot Dusan Vlahovic in a move that very closely resembled the Serbian striker’s goal at home against the Nerazzurri in the league last season. The home team also peppered Handanovic with a shot from Bonaventura, but the Inter captain was level to it. The match ended level, meaning there would be some bonus football played under the lights after the match began on a sun soaked pitch.
With nothing to separate the two sides, extra time began with penalties possibly looming large after an extra 30 minutes. The first extra time period was expectedly cagy, with no shots until an Alexis header landed straight at the feet of Terracciano. Eriksen also had a shot at goal from distance, which forced a corner.
In the second half of extra time, Lukaku put a similar headed chance to Alexis’ in the first period right at Terracciano after a nice corner delivery from Eriksen with only five minutes left to play. Time was slipping away, and the lottery of penalties looked likely until substitute Nicolo Barella found himself in space with time to deliver a pinpoint early cross into Lukaku, who slipped behind the Fiorentina defense with ease to fire an open header past Terracciano, all but guaranteeing Inter a spot in the quarterfinals. It may not have been pretty, but the job was finally done and penalties were thankfully avoided.
Handanovic - 6: The Kouame goal was unstoppable. Other than that, not much action came the captain’s way. His few saves were solid and expected. Decent showing.
Skriniar - 6.5: Only played an hour but played well. Tackle on Kouame was very clean and the penalty call on it was overturned. Glad to have peak Skriniar back after last season.
Ranocchia - 7: Every time he gets a chance off the bench, he continues to demonstrate how comfortable he his at the center of a back three. Great professional, great backup.
Kolarov - 6: While the presence of Kolarov in the back three provided enough nightmare fuel in the beginning of the season, he held is own there today. No big mistakes, matched up to his compatriot Vlahovic well when he came on. Did have the last touch before the Kouame rocket, but that ball could have gone anywhere before falling to the striker.
Young - 6: Usually on the left, but slotted in well on the right. Progressed the ball well and put in a decent shift, but his substitution for Hakimi made a huge difference.
Gagliardini - 5: Hard to think of a time he did anything noticeable on the pitch. Also involved in the pinball situation that led to Kouame’s goal, but no blame can be given there. Mostly ghosted the match.
Eriksen - 6: Came in with low expectations in the regista role, but held his own. Took a couple of shots, delivered some dangerous balls into the box from corners, but also lost possession many times and played a few wayward passes. Decent performance that improved as he played. Even looked good when Brozovic came on and moved him to the mezzala role. Needs more minutes before gaining full match sharpness for a total evaluation. Most promising his stock has looked in months, though.
Vidal - 6.5: This must be what his experience is supposed to look like. He continued his solid all around midfield play, even when facing off against a workhorse like Sofyan Amrabat. Even capped off his performance by scoring a penalty, something that has been an issue for this team outside of Lukaku.
Perisic - 6.5: Best performance he has put in at the left wingback position. Not much went past him in defense and he delivered plenty of crosses that should have warranted him at least one assist. Perhaps his loan club last year, Bayern Munich, could have used such a performance Wednesday, as they lost on penalties in the DFB Pokal to second division side Kiel.
Alexis - 5.5: Had a solid performance, but needs to look less for the extra pass and more for the shot. However, even his shots were wasteful in front of goal in this match. He did draw the first half penalty, though.
Lautaro - 5: While Alexis and Lautaro have successfully linked up in matches in the past, this was not one of them. Even more wasteful than Alexis in this match. The miss before the equalizer was huge. Perhaps extra time could have been avoided if he had converted.
de Vrij - 6.5: Solid performance off the bench, on the right of the back three to replace Skriniar no less. Credit to him for slotting in where needed.
Lukaku - 6.5: The big man bails Inter out again. His linkup with Hakimi made attacks more lively and his goal was clinically taken. No issues here.
Hakimi - 7 (MOTM): Very smart to get him on against tired Fiorentina legs. Could have had a goal but poked wide. His dangerous presence dragged defenders out and made space for Barella’s match winning assist.
Barella - 7: He has proven to have a penchant for big moments. Worked very hard after coming on late and found that perfect cross for Lukaku. More of this on Sunday, please.
Brozovic - 6: Came on late and assumed his normal role. Pretty quiet but kept things solid in the midfield when needed. Maybe Brozo and Eriksen can coexist?
Conte - 7: These types of Coppa matches can be tricky, especially with a huge match against Juventus coming just a few days later. The Eriksen regista project may ultimately come good, but the most credit to the manager should be in making sure that no important outfield players played more than 90 minutes. The tactics worked well and a touch of finishing could have even killed the match off without the extra 30 minutes.
All eyes are now firmly on the big showdown this Sunday against Juventus. This one will surely have some title implications.