Inter Milan eased into the Europa League semi-finals as goals from Nicolo Barella and Romelu Lukaku helped them secure a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen at the Dusseldorf Arena.
Chelsea target Kai Havertz gave Leverkusen hope in what could prove his final game with a well-taken finish before half-time but it was not enough as Antonio Conte's side booked their place in the last four in Germany.
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Inter were denied two penalties upon VAR review but those decisions proved immaterial as another season which promised such hope for Leverkusen once more ended with disappointment.
Inter will face the winners of Tuesday's quarter-final between Shakhtar Donetsk and Basel for a place in the final on August 21.
Bayer Leverkusen: Hradecky (8), Lars Bender (6), Tah (6), Tapsoba (5), Sinkgraven (6), Baumgartlinger (6), Palacios (6), Havertz (7), Demirbay (7), Diaby (6), Volland (6).
Subs: Bailey (6), Amiri (n/a), Alario (n/a), Wendell (n/a), Bellarabi (5).
Inter Milan: Handanovic (6), Godin (7), de Vrij (6), Bastoni (6), D'Ambrosio (7), Barella (7), Brozovic (7), Gagliardini (6), Young (7), Lukaku (9), Martinez (7).
Subs: Sanchez (6), Moses (6), Eriksen (7), Skriniar (n/a).
Man of the match: Romelu Lukaku.
Inter stay on track for Europa League glory
Conte - who has never won a European trophy as a manager - was looking to put a turbulent few weeks behind him, with the Italian having publicly voiced his discontent at the club, sparking speculation he could leave.
His side made the perfect start on Monday night as after Lukaku's shot was blocked by Daley Sinkgraven, the ball fell kindly for Barella to stroke his first-time shot with the outside of his boot beyond the outstretched Lukas Hradecky for his first goal in this season's competition just shy of the quarter-hour mark.
Peter Bosz made just three changes to the Leverkusen side that beat Rangers on Thursday. Charles Aranguiz was replaced by Julian Baumgartlinger in holding midfield, while Kerem Demirbay featured from the off in place of 17-year-old Florian Wirtz as Bosz opted for more experience in his first XI. Sven Bender was ruled out injured in the warm-up and was replaced by Jonathan Tah in defence.
Antonio Conte confirmed the same starting XI which defeated Getafe in the Round of 16: a 3-5-2 formation with Diego Godin preferred to Milan Skriniar in defence and Roberto Gagliardini to Christian Eriksen in midfield.
Barella nearly found a second when he met Lautaro Martinez's low cross and forced Hradecky into a smart save with his feet, but 30 seconds later the Italians had their second when Lukaku rolled Edmond Tapsoba from Ashley Young's pass, and managed to keep his feet to guide his shot into the net for his 31st goal of the season.
It was also the ninth consecutive game Lukaku had scored in the competition - a new Europa League record - and the Belgian should have had his second moments later when he was set free by Marcelo Brozovic but Hradecky stood tall to save.
The miss proved costly as within a minute, Leverkusen found a route back into the game. After Lars Bender's speculative shot was blocked by Diego Godin, Havertz wriggled through to take Kevin Volland's return pass to squeeze his shot beneath Samir Handanovic.
The goal came firmly against the run of play, but Inter thought they had the chance to regain their two-goal lead just two minutes later when referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande initially deemed Daley Sinkgraven to have handled Danilo D'Ambrosio's cross. Upon VAR review, however, the decision was overturned as Leverkusen got to the break with just the one-goal deficit.
There is always a sense Inter are only one result away from a crisis, but they were the stronger side in the second period with Leverkusen goalkeeper Hradecky denying substitute Alexis Sanchez and Victor Moses in quick succession.
Leverkusen missed out on a Champions League place when well set in the Bundesliga while they also lost out in the German Cup final to Bayern Munich, and there were few moments in the second period where Handanovic was unduly troubled.
Leon Bailey came off the bench to inject some urgency and it was his teasing cross with 10 minutes remaining that just evaded Havertz and Volland - but it was Inter who came closest to putting the tie to bed.
Lukaku placed the ball on the penalty spot once more late on after Christian Eriksen was fouled by Karim Bellarabi inside the box but replays showed a handball by Barella in the build-up.
But a year to the day since Peter Bosz's side started their 2019/20 season, their hopes of ending a 27-year wait for silverware goes on. As Leverkusen bowed out, Inter progressed to Sunday's semi-final.
What the managers said
Bayer Leverkusen boss Peter Bosz: "We have been beaten by a good opponent. It must be said that we have not played well during the first twenty minutes. It was obvious that we were nervous, very untidy in possession. Without the ball, we had problems with Lukaku. We knew what a strong player he was.
"But overall we have not defended well. After that, we finally got into the game and in the second half I really think that we could have done more. But to be honest, we have never had a really big chance tonight. The feeling I had from the team is that we could have done more. We are disappointed. We are losing to a better team, but there was more for us to do."
Inter Milan boss Antonio Conte: "What has never faded is the trust I have in the team. We worked really hard, and I think the result shows, both in Serie A and in Europa League. I think the whole team is to be praised today, we played a huge match, under all aspects.
"I think that aside from the first 20 minutes, it was the whole match which showed we deserved it, under all aspects. We did well in preventing Leverkusen doing what they can do, which is dominate a match with ball possession, push you back in your half and then attack you. We played well and we showed courage, which is something I always ask the boys."
Man of the match - Romelu Lukaku
Lukaku tormented the Germans all evening. After scoring what proved to be the winner, the Belgian could have had a second when Inter were awarded a penalty for handball, but that harsh decision against Leverkusen was rightly overturned.
He also had a goal disallowed after been adjudged to have fouled in the build-up on Tapsoba, who will be having sleepless nights after being over-powered by the striker throughout the 90 minutes.
Lukaku showed plenty of humility after his dominant performance, saying: "To me, the man of the match is Nicolo Barella. The way he plays football is simply incredible - maturity, quality. He is truly a great player."
But it was he who was the game's outstanding player. Lukaku has been directly involved in nine goals in European competition for Inter Milan this season (six goals and three assists); excluding qualifiers, the most by a player for the club in a single season since Samuel Eto'o in 2010/11 (13).
Inter make long-awaited semi-final return - Opta stats
- Inter Milan have reached their first European semi-final since 2009/10 in the Champions League, while this is the eighth time they have reached the semi-final of the UEFA Cup/Europa League - the most of any side.
- Inter Milan are the first Italian team to reach the semi-finals of the Europa League since 2014/15 (Napoli and Fiorentina), while two of the four Italian teams to do so in the competition have been managed by Antonio Conte (also Juventus in 2013/14).
- Inter Milan's Ashley Young made his 50th appearance in major European competitions (excl. qualifiers), while he's finished on the winning side in exactly half of those games (25/50).
Havertz: Scouting report for Chelsea target
Among players aged 21 or under within the top five European leagues, only Kylian Mbappé (69) has scored more goals than Leverkusen's Havertz (38) across all competitions since the start of last season.
"I can confirm that next season Kai Havertz will play for Heracles Almelo (in the Dutch Eredivisie)," Bosz joked afterwards.
But it feels now like he has outgrown his current employers, who once again have seen a season fizzle out with little to show for their efforts.
Leverkusen have been eliminated in each of their last three quarter-final appearances in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, having previously exited against Osasuna in 2006/07 and Zenit St Petersburg in 2007/08.
Havertz provided them with hope with his 18th goal of the season but this looked one game too far for many of his team-mates this term.
Inter were by far the better side, and Diego Godin alongside Alessandro Bastoni were able to keep the £90m-rated Chelsea target limited to just the one chance he took.
Inter MIlan will play the winners of Tuesday's Europa League quarter-final between Shakhtar Donetsk and Basel. The 2020-21 Bundesliga season is slated to begin on September 18, and Leverkusen will continue their preparations for the return of the domestic campaign.
Wolves or Sevilla vs Man Utd (August 16, RheinEnergieStadion)
Inter Milan vs Shakhtar Donetsk or Basel (August 17, Merkur Spiel-Arena)
Friday August 21 (RheinEnergieStadion)