Romelu Lukaku kept Inter Milan’s Champions League hopes alive on Tuesday, scoring two second-half goals to seal a dramatic 3-2 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach in their penultimate group game.
Lukaku’s double gave Inter their first victory in the Champions League this season in a rollercoaster game, blowing Group B wide open ahead of the final round of group matches next week.
“A leader? I’m just one of the 25 players in the squad,” said the Belgium striker. “There are a lot of players who have more experience than me. I just want to help the team win, that’s my only motivation on a daily basis.
“I have been playing the best football of my career for a year and a half.”
It was another match-winning performance from Lukaku, who now has 13 goals in 15 European games for Inter and one which left Gladbach midfielder Christoph Kramer scratching his head.
“If you mark him the whole time, then they play around him, so it’s a balancing act. But that’s Inter for you. They have so many different facets to their game, and they showed that today,” Kramer told broadcaster DAZN.
Gladbach still sit on top of the group after Shakhtar Donetsk beat Real Madrid 2-0 earlier on Tuesday, but they are now just three points ahead of bottom side Inter.
With just a single point separating the top three sides, all four teams still have a chance to qualify next week.
“We could have avoided unnecessary suffering (in the group), but we are alive and that is the most important thing,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte, who is bidding to avoid his fourth Champions League group-stage exit as a coach.
In need of a win at all costs, Inter set up to hit Gladbach on the break, with Matteo Darmian causing early trouble for the German defence on the right-wing.
It was Darmian who gave Inter the lead on 17 minutes, nutmegging goalkeeper Yann Sommer from a sharp angle after a neat passing move between Lukaku and Roberto Gagliardini.
Alassane Plea equalised for Gladbach on the stroke of half-time, heading in a pinpoint cross from Inter loanee Valentino Lazaro.
With Inter unsettled by the equaliser, Marcus Thuram almost headed the hosts in front shortly after the break. Yet the Italians hit back, with Lautaro Martinez hitting the post before Lukaku restored the lead.
Having been stifled by the Gladbach defence for much of the game Lukaku finally found space to shoot on 65 minutes, and sent a low strike whistling past Sommer.
The Belgian doubled the lead seven minutes later, slotting home Achraf Hakimi’s cross at the end of a clinically executed counter-attack.
Gladbach hit back equally clinically, Plea squeezing the ball past Samir Handanovic on the break just two minutes after the restart.
The Frenchman found the net again seven minutes from time, but the goal was disallowed for offside after Breel Embolo was ruled to have blocked the goalkeeper’s view.
“There were a few decisions which went against us at the end. I don’t think Breel was in the way. I wished the officials a merry Christmas after the game,” Gladbach coach Marco Rose told DAZN.
With the group now poised on a knife edge, Inter hope to complete an unlikely escape attempt when they host Shakhtar in their final group game next Wednesday.
Gladbach, meanwhile, travel to Madrid with hopes of qualifying from the group stage for the first time in the Champions League era.