Kevin Trapp’s early penalty save set Eintracht Frankfurt up for a hard-fought goalless draw against Inter in their Europa League last-16 first leg.
Eintracht are unbeaten in all competitions in 2019 but that record might well have come to an end had Marcelo Brozovic been able to find a way past Trapp from 12 yards in Germany on Thursday.
With Mauro Icardi still absent, Brozovic seized the opportunity to take the spot-kick after an on-field debate with Ivan Perisic and Lautaro Martinez but succeeded only in passing up the game’s best opportunity.
Frankfurt were much improved in the second half and perhaps should have secured a first-leg lead, meaning both sides will still feel the tie is there to be won at San Siro next week.
Inter’s early attacking ambition was met with rugged Eintracht defending, yet it was a relatively soft challenge from Gelson Fernandes that saw Martinez go to ground to earn a 22nd-minute penalty.
Trapp brilliantly dived to his left to parry away Brozovic’s spot-kick and preserve parity, allowing the slow-starting hosts to grow into the contest.
Chances for star forward Luka Jovic were still few and far between, but Frankfurt came out for the second half with renewed vigour and were twice frustrated by the officials in quick succession.
Evan Ndicka nodded in from a corner but the offside Sebastien Haller was deemed to be interfering with play. Haller was then bundled over in the area and referee Willie Collum waved away appeals, sending coach Adi Hutter to the stands for thrashing at a nearby water bottle.
Martin Hinteregger horribly miscued an unmarked header and the same man tested Samir Handanovic from distance shortly afterwards, but the sides each had to settle for a stalemate.
What does it mean? Still in the balance
Inter should be among the favourites to win this competition, but Eintracht could certainly be considered a dark horse. It is perhaps no surprise that the two cancelled one another out. Preventing the Nerazzurri from netting an away goal could yet prove crucial, but Frankfurt will come to rue their own failure to score if Icardi is involved in the second leg.
Kevin keeps Inter out
Frankfurt fans are used to saluting striking sensation Jovic, but it was the man at the other end of the pitch who proved their star performer on Thursday. The hosts had started slowly and Brozovic would surely have put Inter in control of the tie had Trapp not superbly turned away his early penalty. This clean sheet means any Eintracht goal at San Siro would have added significance.
— Eintracht Frankfurt (@eintracht_eng) March 7, 2019
Luka looks sluggish
With 15 Bundesliga goals this season, much was expected of Jovic in this tie. But the front man failed to hit his usual heights on the big stage, allowing a defender to block a tame close-range shot in the first half before sending a similarly meek effort into Handanovic’s grateful clutches after the break.
Key Opta Stats
– Inter have been eliminated only once in the last seven times when they have drawn 0-0 away from home the first leg in the knockout stage in European competitions (including qualifying phase), back in 2002-03 vs AC Milan in Champions League.
– Inter have kept three clean sheets in a row in European competition for the first time since October 2014 (five matches in a row).
– Inter missed a penalty kick for the first time in 439 days in all competitions, excluding penalty shootouts (23/12/2017, against Sassuolo in Serie A).
– Eintracht kept a clean sheet against an Italian side in European competition for the first time since December 1994 (vs Napoli).
Eintracht go to Fortuna Dusseldorf and Inter host SPAL before the sides meet again at San Siro for the second leg in a week’s time.
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