DUSSELDORF: Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku scored the winner in a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen as he tormented the Germans to lead his side into the Europa League semi-finals last night.
Nicolo Barella put Inter ahead after 15 minutes, driving the ball home after Lukaku’s shot was blocked, and six minutes later the Belgian got on the scoresheet when he displayed his strength by holding off defender Edmond Tapsoba before firing home.
Leverkusen winger Kai Havertz, reported to be a transfer target of Premier League club Chelsea, pulled a goal back for the Germans but it was goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky who kept them in the game with a string of fine saves.
The win sets up a semi-final against Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk or FC Basel of Switzerland, who meet tonight.
After scoring what proved to be the winner, Lukaku could have had a second goal when Inter were awarded a penalty for handball, but that harsh decision against Leverkusen was overturned by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
Tapsoba struggled all night to contain the physicality of 27-year-old Lukaku, who set a record by scoring in nine straight Europa League games, and in the second half the centre-back resorted to hacking the striker down on a number of occasions.
Seeking their first trophy since a 2011 Coppa Italia triumph, Inter sent on Alexis Sanchez in the second half and he had two excellent efforts blocked by last-ditch defending.
Lukaku was again denied a spot kick by VAR after an Inter player was discovered to have handled just before Christian Eriksen was bundled over in the box, and he fired a late shot wide under pressure from Tapsoba as Inter held on for victory.
Meanwhile, Manchester United reached the semi-finals as midfielder Bruno Fernandes scored a 95th-minute penalty to secure a 1-0 win over FC Copenhagen after extra time.
United, who won Europe’s second-tier competition in 2017, will next meet either Sevilla or Wolverhampton Wanderers for a berth in the final after grinding down their stubborn Danish opponents in an entertaining last-eight clash.
Copenhagen dominated the opening half and missed several chances before United moved up a gear in the second, hitting the woodwork twice and forcing a string of superb saves from goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson.
Fernandes settled the contest when he drilled his spot-kick past Johnsson after Anthony Martial, who saw several sitters thwarted by the keeper, was fouled by Andreas Bjelland.