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25 June 2024

Lukaku and Leão decisive for Inter and Milan before CL derby


 Inter Milan has been waiting all season for this version of Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgium striker scored twice and set up the third goal in a 3-0 win at Empoli on Sunday to end Inter’s five-match winless run in Serie A.
The goals were Lukaku’s first from open play in the Italian league since the opening round of the season in August, having struggled with a hamstring injury during the first half of the season.
The return to form couldn’t have come at a better time for Lukaku, with the second leg of the Italian Cup semifinals coming up against Juventus on Wednesday, followed by the Champions League semifinals against city rival AC Milan next month.
“I’m getting my confidence back,” Lukaku said. “I’ve always got (to) give my all for this (club), because they gave me a big opportunity to become the player that I am today.”
Inter remained sixth, two points behind Milan, which beat visiting Lecce 2-0 with a brace from Rafael Leão.
Later, runaway leader Napoli was visiting Juventus.
It’s been a big 24 hours for Lukaku, who had his one-match suspension for the Cup match overturned by the Italian soccer federation on Saturday in what it called a statement against racism.
Lukaku had picked up a second yellow card in the opening leg for provoking Juventus fans by holding his finger to his lips as if to silence the crowd after converting a stoppage-time penalty equalizer. However, Lukaku — who is Black — had been subjected to repeated discriminatory chants.
Empoli beat Inter 1-0 at the San Siro in January and posed a threat in the first half.
Lukaku took over shortly after the break when he traded passes with Marcelo Brozovic before shooting precisely inside the far post. His second was a show of force, as Lukaku took on defender Ardian Ismajl 1-on-1 and fooled his marker with a step over before blasting into the far corner.
Then Lukaku turned provider, setting up Lautaro Martinez to finish off a counterattack – brining back memories of the “LuLa” combination that worked so well when Inter won Serie A in 2020-21.
Having also been key for Milan when the Rossoneri eliminated Napoli in the Champions League quarterfinals, Leão was in the spotlight again against Lecce.
Leão soared above his marker to head in a cross from Sandro Tonali five minutes before the break. Then midway through the second half, he took control in Milan’s own half and surged forward before driving an angled shot through the legs of Lecce defender Federico Baschirotto
With his 11th and 12th goals in the league this season, Leão became only the second Portuguese player to score 10 or more goals in consecutive Serie A seasons after Cristiano Ronaldo did it in three straight seasons for Juventus from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
Milan also had a first-half penalty kick waved off by the VAR after what was initially whistled as a foul by Baschirotto.
Also, Monza came from two goals down to beat Fiorentina 3-2 with Matteo Pessina converting a penalty for the winner; and Udinese beat struggling Cremonese 3-0.