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Schalke beat European champs Inter, again, for semi-final spot

Schalke sent UEFA Champions League title-holders Inter Milan packing from the competition with a 2-1 win at home. The Gelsenkirchen side now progress to a semi-final showdown against Manchester United.

The Schalke team celebrating at 1-0

There wasn't much doubt, but the opener was very welcome

Schalke completed the elimination of Champions League title holders Inter Milan on Wednesday with a 2-1 home win - making the aggregate score an impressive 7-3 for the Germans.

The result means that the club, currently standing in ninth place in the Bundesliga, goes through to the last four in the competition - where a tie against Manchester United awaits.

Schalke's progress was never greatly in doubt, the royal blues having triumphed 5-2 over Italy's "black-and-blues" at the San Siro stadium in Milan.

Raul celebrating

The evergreen Raul scored one goal and set up the other

The Gelsenkirchen side successfully stifled most of Inter's attacking moves, while making some dangerous counter attacks of their own. Schalke's star Spanish striker Raul came close with a header after 15 minutes.

Inter had one quality chance in the first half in the 36th minute, when Dejan Stankovic forced a leaping save from Germany 'keeper Manuel Neuer.

Overall though, Inter seemed short of the necessary inspiration to fully test Schalke, and their chances of a comeback seemed even more remote when Raul put his team even further in front just before the half-time whistle.

On 45 minutes, the former Real Madrid player gathered a through ball from Atsuo Uchida and rounded Inter 'keeper Julio Cesar to place the ball into an empty net.

Inter found the faintest shred of hope with an early second-half equalizer as Wesley Sneijder's corner was steered towards goal by Lucio for Thiago Motta to score on 49 minutes. But more was not to come for the Italians.

Faintest hopes extinguished

Even the greatest optimists among the traveling Inter support must have realized the competition was over for them on 81 minutes. Raul scooped the ball over the Milanese defense and found Benedikt Höwedes, a central defender streaking forward on a rare offensive foray. The 23-year-old smashed his shot past Cesar, making the final score line 2-1.

Football analyst Paul Chapman said that teamwork appeared to have paid off for a side that has enjoyed two Bundesliga wins and two Champions League wins since coach Ralf Rangnick took over at the club three weeks ago.

Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer

Schalke keeper Neuer was tested, but not too greatly

"All of them did well and they played as a unit. Within a surprisingly short amount of time, Rangnick has formed them into a side where the players work very hard for each other.

"It was a professional job well done for the Schalke team. If I had to pick a player who stood out though, I would say it was Raul - scoring one and setting the other one up."

Chapman said that, as well as having the advantage of an aggregate score strongly in their favor, Schalke had the benefit of playing a demoralized opponent.

"I think the body language of the Inter Milan players showed that they already thought that the tie had been decided in Schalke's favor. Inter looks like an aging team that is ready to be broken up."

Rangnick, who has replaced Felix Magath at the helm, did not conceal his delight.

"It is historic. We are very, very happy that we are in the semi final. In both legs of the tie, you could see what potential there is in this side. We wanted to go for a win, so a 1-1 result was not good enough for us."

Ralf Rangnick

Rangnick said that his team had not been been prepared to settle for 1-1 as a final score

Schalke are set to play the home leg of their tie against Manchester United on April 26, traveling to England on May 4 for the return leg.

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was present at Wednesday’s game, but football analyst Chapman said he would not have seen much to worry him with Schalke facing a tough test.

"If you take the two teams and allow for them both playing their best, you would have to fancy United. If Schalke are going to make any mark at all, they are going to have to establish some kind of lead at Gelsenkirchen. Schalke will hope to catch United off their guard because I think at the return in Manchester it's going to be one-way traffic from United."

The winner of the two-legged match will meet either Real Madrid or Barcelona in the May 28 final at London's Wembley Stadium.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Matt Hermann

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