MILAN (Reuters) - Inter Milan came from behind to beat Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad 2-1 to reach the Europa League last 16 at an eerily quiet San Siro on Thursday where spectators were banned because of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy.
The shouting of the players echoed around the 70,000-capacity stadium on a cold night as Inter completed a 4-1 aggregate win in the second leg of their Round of 32 tie.
Italy is Europe’s worst-hit country, with 17 deaths from the coronavirus and 650 infections. The outbreak is focused on a small cluster of towns in the northern Lombardy and Veneto regions.
Only stewards and security officials, anti-doping staff and match delegates plus any staff connected directly with the organisation of the game were allowed in the stadium plus media working for the broadcasting rights holders.
Italian media said the Ludogorets squad arrived wearing masks, as they had done on the way to their hotel on Wednesday. The traditional UEFA lunch was cancelled and the Bulgarian side were due to fly straight back home after the match.
“It seemed like a training session, playing behind closed doors created a very strange atmosphere,” said Inter coach Antonio Conte. “The lads did well to put things back in place immediately after we suffered the goal.”
Ludogorets took a shock 26th minute lead. Cicinho crossed from the right and fellow Brazilian Cauly Souza held off Diego Godin’s challenge to score off the underside of the bar.
They were ahead for six minutes until Cristiano Biraghi’s shot found a gap at goalkeeper Plamen Iliev’s near post.
Romelu Lukaku scored Inter’s winner in first-half stoppage time although the Belgian knew little about it.
Alexis Sanchez clipped the ball into the area and, although Lukaku’s header was saved by Iliev, the ball rebounded off the goalkeeper’s head and looped into the goal.
Lukaku and Sanchez then both hit the woodwork in the second half as Inter eased through to the last 16.
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris