Inter Milan booked their ticket to the Europa League last 16 on Thursday with a 2-1 win on the night and 4-1 on aggregate over Bulgarian club Ludogorets to deafening silence and a surreal atmosphere behind closed doors of the San Siro.
The Italian government ordered the game be played in an empty stadium because of the spread of coronavirus, which has particularly hit the northern Lombardy region, of which Milan is the capital. Italy has the largest coronavirus outbreak in Europe with 650 people infected and 17 deaths.
The game was closed to the public and journalists with only broadcasters allowed into the 80,000-seater San Siro. “It’s certainly a surreal situation,” said Inter director Giuseppe Marotta before the match. “The public is a fundamental component of football, without the audience, emotions are diminished. But the protection of citizens must be safeguarded.”
Ludogorets’ players and staff arrived at the stadium wearing protective facemasks, some also wearing gloves.
Despite the tension there were smiles from players of both teams as the Europa League anthem resounded around the stadium at full blast. The reigning eight-time Bulgarian league winners settled in and went ahead after 26 minutes through Cauly Oliveira.
Cristiano Biraghi pulled Inter level six minutes later, finishing off a Cristian Eriksen through ball with Romelu Lukaku adding a second just before the break. The Belgian striker picked up Alexis Sanchez’s cross but his header bounced off Ludogoret’s goalkeeper, before striking Lukaku’s head as he lay on the ground and into the net.
“It had already happened to me with the national team,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte of playing in an empty stadium. “The atmosphere is certainly strange, it’s not easy.”
Manchester United breezed to a 6-1 aggregate win over 10-man Bruges after a 5-0 return-leg rout of the Belgians at Old Trafford, while Wolves advanced with a 6-3 overall victory against Espanyol despite a 3-2 second-leg defeat in Spain.
Odion Ighalo celebrated his first start for United with his maiden goal for the club after Bruno Fernandes had fired the home side ahead with a 27th-minute penalty which also produced a red card for Bruges defender Simon Deli. The centreback was dismissed after he dived in goalkeeping fashion to handle a Daniel James shot before Fernandes sent Simon Mignolet the wrong way with the spot-kick.
Scot McTominay made it 3-0 on the night with a fine first-time shot from 18m just before break and Brazilian midfielder Fred put the icing on the cake with a late brace for United, who won Europe’s second-tier competition in 2016.
Youssef El-Arabi scored in the last minute of extra-time as Olympiacos knocked Arsenal out on a night when four former European champions were eliminated. Ajax, Celtic, Benfica and Porto went out.
Arsenal, last year’s losing finalists, had won the first leg of the round of 32 tie 1-0 in Greece. Defender Pape Abou Cisse cancelled out that advantage after 53 minutes. Arsenal could not break through and were forced to extra time.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put them back in front with a spectacular flying kick. However, in the final minute of extra time, Arsenal cleared an Olympiacos corner but were still disorganised when the ball swung back into the area. The cross found El Arabi free in front of goal for an unchallenged shot.
Wolves took a 4-0 first-leg lead to Espanyol and never looked in danger as Adama Traore scrambled in a close-range effort and Matt Doherty also scored as they twice cancelled out goals from Jonathan Calleri who scored a hat-trick.
Roma, 1-0 winners against Gent in the first leg, looked to have a struggle on their hands when Jonathan David levelled the tie on aggregate after 25 minutes but Justin Kluivert eased the Serie A side’s nerves with a quick equaliser.