Schalke are through to the Champions League semi-finals for the first time after a comprehensive 7-3 aggregate victory over holders Inter Milan.
Raul’s 71st Champions League goal right before half-time killed off any faint hopes the Nerazzurri had of mounting an unlikely comeback from their 5-2 deficit. Thiago Motta equalised early in the second period, but Benedikt Höwedes fired in a superb winner with nine minutes remaining to leave Ralf Rangnick’s side looking forward to a last-four encounter with Manchester United.
As in the first leg, Inter took control early and Wesley Sneijder fired the first of two early attempts on goal straight at Manuel Neuer and the message was clear: the visitors were not giving up their title without a fight. Who knows how the match would have turned out if Inter had taking their chances over the two legs.
As the half progressed, Schalke came more and more into the game with Alexander Baumjohann a constant threat with his thrusting runs down the right and José Manuel Jurado’s trickery and vision caused problems on the opposite flank.
The evergreen Raúl was dropping deep to link midfield and attack before haring forward to get on the end of things. On 16 minutes Júlio César had to be on his guard when one move found the 33-year-old popping up unmarked to head Jurado’s left-wing cross goalwards.
Inter threatened intermittently, finding space particularly down the left, but Höwedes twice made crucial blocks on Samuel Eto’o. Dejan Stanković, scorer from 53 metres in the first leg, went close for the Nerazzurri but on this occasion, from half that range, Neuer was his equal. Inter’s frustration was compounded when they fell behind and it was no surprise that the approach work involved Baumjohann and Jurado, the latter feeding Raúl, who rounded Júlio César with ease to score.
Inter’s 2,500 travelling supporters finally had something to cheer about four minutes into the second half when Thiago Motta bundled in from close range after Lúcio’s header, following a Sneijder corner, was deflected.
With four more goals required, Inter threw more men forward, Eto’o clearing the bar with a header and curling narrowly wide of the top corner.
Inter had to push men forward in search of more goals and as a result they left themselves open to a Schalke counter-attack. Eventually those gaps in the Inter defence became too much and a wonderful piece of skill from Raúl killed off Inter on the night and in the tie.
Raul flicked a clever through ball into the path of the onrushing Höwedes, who had already had a goal disallowed for offside, and the Schalke centre-half lashed in his shot to knock the defending Champions out of the Champions League.
photo credit: americanistadechiapas