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Achraf Hakimi could be key to Inter’s title challenge

October 1, 2020 GMT
Inter Milan's head coach Antonio Conte celebrates at the end of the Serie A soccer match between Inter Milan and Fiorentina at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Inter Milan's head coach Antonio Conte celebrates at the end of the Serie A soccer match between Inter Milan and Fiorentina at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

MILAN (AP) — Achraf Hakimi could be the player who helps Inter Milan take that final step toward wining titles again.

Hakimi joined from Real Madrid in the offseason — having spent the previous two years on loan at Borussia Dortmund — and the wing-back has already been involved in three goals in his first two matches for Inter.

He set up Inter’s equalizer in its 4-3 win over Fiorentina shortly after coming off the bench and did even better on his full debut on Wednesday, a 5-2 victory at Benevento.

Hakimi set up Romelu Lukaku for the opener after just 28 seconds and also scored his first Inter goal shortly before halftime.

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“I’m happy for how I’m fitting into the team and how I’ve been welcomed,” the 21-year-old Hakimi said. “I’ve adapted well also to the coach’s demand and the style of play he wants.”

While newly-promoted Benevento didn’t make for the toughest of oppositions, Hakimi caused havoc on the wing and was a constant threat going forward.

The Morocco international is likely to further increase the scoring opportunities for Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez, who formed an impressive partnership last year.

“Hakimi is a player who has a lot of potential ... he has very important attacking characteristics but he needs to improve defensively a lot,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said. “He was our investment this year — a young player who is a really promising talent. He has to work and work hard but today he had a really good game and we hope he continues in this way.”

Inter finished a point behind Juventus in Serie A last season and lost the Europa League final to Sevilla. It hasn’t won a major title since the 2011 Italian Cup.

It faces the first real test of its credentials on Sunday when it visits title rival Lazio, which is coming off a 4-1 loss to Atalanta.

“That (the title) is what we are working for and we have a great squad to play for it, we’ll fight for it, we don’t lack the desire to work,” Hakimi said.

There have been positive signs from Inter’s first two matches — although there were also glaring errors at the back.

The Nerazzurri scored nine goals in its opening two fixtures for the first time since the 1961-62 season.

“We’re happy about the fact we scored five,” Inter defender Milan Skriniar said after Wednesday’s match. “New players have arrived this season, and they’ll lend us a hand.

“Hakimi is one example: he’s very fast and is a good player, while he also knows how to defend. He’ll certainly help the team considerably.”

Hakimi also won over some additional fans at the end of the match in Benevento, when he gave his shirt to a child in the stands.

“I did it myself as a kid, asking the players for their shirts,” he said. “It’s always nice to bring a bit of joy to your supporters, especially if they’re kids.”

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