Football: Hotshot Icardi says Champions League is Inter's goal after missing out

Inter Milan’s Argentinian forward Mauro Icardi (top) and Bayern Munich's French defender Mehdi Benatia (partially hidden) vie for the ball during a friendly football match in Shanghai on July 21, 2015.
Inter Milan’s Argentinian forward Mauro Icardi (top) and Bayern Munich's French defender Mehdi Benatia (partially hidden) vie for the ball during a friendly football match in Shanghai on July 21, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

GUANGZHOU (AFP) - Red-hot striker Mauro Icardi said on Sunday he hopes his goals will propel fallen giants Inter Milan back into the Uefa Champions League reckoning this season.

Icardi was joint top scorer in Serie A last season with 22 goals and was one of Inter's few positives as they languished in eighth place and failed to qualify for Europe. The 22-year-old Argentinian shared the Italian league scoring honours with Verona veteran Luca Toni.

He declared his commitment to manager Roberto Mancini's rebuilding project at the San Siro by signing a new four-year contract extension with the club in June.

"I just signed a new deal because the club is building a great team," Icardi told a news conference after training ahead of Monday's International Champions Cup match against Real Madrid in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou.

"We hope to have a big year and secure Champions League football. That's the aim.

"We're working hard to boost our fitness levels. We want to be ready so we can have a great season," he added.

Inter lost against city rivals AC Milan on Saturday night in nearby Shenzhen. Mancini was pleased to report a clean bill of health as he prepared for the daunting task of facing Real's superstars, who romped past Manchester City 4-1 in Melbourne on Friday night with Cristiano Ronaldo playing a starring role.

"There's no injury worries so that's good," the Italian told AFP. "It's always difficult with two games so close together.

"That's why we rotated against AC Milan yesterday. The main thing is not picking up injuries. We'll change again. We want to play good football.

"Real Madrid are probably a better team than us at the moment and further ahead in pre-season.

"We want to win every game but it's more important that we test ourselves, work hard and improve to be ready for the start of Serie A."

When Inter showed up for training at the 54,000-capacity Tianhe Stadium on Sunday they were greeted by hundreds of Chinese fans clad in the famous blue and black Nerazzurri, waiting patiently outside in the sticky heat for a glimpse of their idols.

"We're happy to be here. I want to thank all the fans in China for the immense support they give us," said Mancini, paying tribute to the fans.

Monday will be Real's first pre-season outing on Chinese soil for four years, while Inter will conclude a three-match tour that has seen them lose 0-1 twice already, to Bayern Munich in Shanghai as well as against Milan on Saturday.

Real, who also played Roma in Melbourne last week, drawing 0-0 and losing on penalties, will face Milan in Shanghai on Thursday in the concluding match of the pre-season International Champions Cup before flying back to Spain.