COLOGNE: Internazionale and Manchester United are safely into the semi-finals of the Europa League after they both launched the Final Eight tournament in winning style.
While United struggled to convert their dominance into a 1-0 extra-time victory over FC Kobenhavn, Inter needed just the standard 90 minutes to see off Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in Duisburg.
Nicolo Barella fired home from 20 metres to give Inter the lead before Romelu Lukaku scored for a record ninth consecutive Europa League game on an assist from Ashley Young. It was the Belgium striker’s 31st goal of the season.
Kai Havertz smashed home from six yards out to give Leverkusen hope but they could not find a leveller to force extra time in the one-off tie.
Lukaku, who joined Inter from United, is the first player to ever score in nine UEFA Cup or Europa League matches in a row, although that run includes five games for Everton in 2014-15.
He twice prepared to take a penalty – in the first half and in stoppage time at the end – but both times the decisions were overturned by the video assistant referee.
Inter are now only two games away from winning their first trophy since the Coppa Italia in 2011. Eight managers have failed to lead them to silverware in between Leonardo and Conte, who took charge last summer.
They have already enjoyed their best Serie A season in that time, finishing second, one point behind champions Juventus.
United in command
In Cologne Manchester United hit the posts four times and had one goal and one penalty appeal rejected by the video assistant. Bruno Fernandes scored the decisive goal with a typically unerring a 95th-minute penalty.
On the eve of the ties United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had said that winning the competition would be the greatest achievement of his career, even more important than scoring the goal which beat FC Bayern in the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final in Barcelona.
Solskjaer, who won 12 major honours as a player with United, said: “My dream is to lift a trophy as manager of this club. I owe my football career to United so to win something as the manager would be the proudest moment of my career.”
The second Premier League challengers, Wolves, will return to European competition this season only if they win the Europa League after finishing seventh in the Premier League. They play Sevilla.
This is the first time Wolves have reached the quarter-finals of a European competition in 48 years. If they do win the Europa League they will be permitted to register only 23 players for the Champions League next season after spending more than permitted under UEFA’s financial fair play regulations.