Robert Lewandowski (file pic). Alamy Stock Photo

Inter victory ensures Barcelona suffer embarrassing Champions League exit

The Catalan side will be playing Europa League football after Christmas.

ROMELU LUKAKU SCORED on his Inter Milan return on Wednesday in a 4-0 thumping of Viktoria Plzen to help his side make the Champions League last 16 and knock Barcelona out of the competition.

Later in the evening, Bayern Munich clinched top spot with a 3-0 win over the already eliminated Catalans.

Belgium striker Lukaku netted Inter’s fourth against Viktoria Plzen with three minutes remaining and only four after replacing Lautaro Martinez, after Henrikh Mkhitaryan and an Edin Dzeko brace had already effectively ensured his team of at least second place in Group C.

Inter’s thumping win at the San Siro, Lukaku’s first appearance in two months following a thigh injury, relegated Barca to the Europa League ahead of their match with Bayern Munich.

Barcelona had reached the knock-out rounds in the 17 prior editions of the tournament before consecutive early eliminations under coach Xavi Hernandez.

Their fate had already been almost sealed a fortnight ago when Inter draw a thrilling encounter at the Camp Nou 3-3, after a single-goal victory for Inter the previous week.

Barca were favourites to go through with Bayern when the group stage draw was made, but they have won just one of their four fixtures and collected only four points.

Being knocked out so early is an embarrassment for Barca after a lavish summer spending spree and is also a further strain on their troubled accounts.

Barca were €1.3 billion in debt before president Joan Laporta and the board pulled their infamous “palancas”, or financial leverage.

Meanwhile Inter’s qualification for the knockout stages of Europe’s top club competition continues a drastic upsurge in form for a team which looked deep in crisis at the start of the month.

Five wins from their last six matches in all competitions have made Inter one of a likely three Italian teams in November’s draw for the next round and have fans hoping for another Serie A title challenge.

Barcelona had hoped to salvage some pride against Bayern before a large and undeterred crowd of over 84,000 fans, but first-half goals from Sadio Mane and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting denied them even that, with Benjamin Pavard adding another late on.

A few supporters left at half-time but the majority stayed to the end as their team played their last Champions League game at Camp Nou until at least 2024, with the team set to move to the city’s Olympic Stadium next season during renovations.

Despite strong home support, hoping their team could end a run of five consecutive defeats by the Bavarians for pride as much as anything else, the visitors clinically took the lead after 10 minutes.

Serge Gnabry played a fine through ball for Sadio Mane to race on to, leaving Hector Bellerin chasing hopelessly behind, and the Senegalese forward lofted over Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Bayern sliced Barcelona open like a hot knife through butter again in the 31st minute, with former Stoke City and PSG striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting finishing consummately after another Gnabry pass. The Cameroon international now has five goals in his last four games.

Julian Nagelsmann’s team could have added a third before half-time but the otherwise ragged Hector Bellerin blocked on the line and Ter Stegen denied Jamal Musiala from close range.

Moments later Barcelona won a penalty when Robert Lewandowski was felled by Matthijs de Ligt, but after watching the incident again, referee Anthony Taylor cancelled it, provoking vitriol from Camp Nou.

Gnabry had a goal ruled out for offside in the second half just when it seemed Bayern had again masterfully absorbed Barcelona’s pressure and sucker-punched them at the other end.

Bayern rounded off their victory when Pavard finished from close range after a corner was fired back his way.

Former Bayern striker Lewandowski, who swapped the Allianz Arena for Camp Nou in the summer, left frustrated again, unable to net against his old side, one of the favourites for Champions League glory.

Barcelona will be among the favourites in Europe too, albeit for a different trophy.

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