Straight from the dark heart of Italy
If a week is a long time in politics, 90 minutes can be a lifetime in football.
Jose Mourinho must have lived through a few of them against Dynamo Kyiv but in the end Inter Milan are alive and kicking in the Champions League.NEWS, Wed Nov 4: Inter squeak through
For so long it looked like it was going to be one of those evenings, behind to an early goal from an old enemy and squandering chances – until Diego Milito scuffed home an equaliser and Wesley Sneijder’s whippet-like reactions saved the Nerazzurri's season.
More than anything, those late goals from the two big summer signings have ensured that Mourinho has defied those critics waiting to bewail another European failure.
The Portuguese had wrapped up anyone capable of putting one foot in front of the other for the big chill-down in Ukraine – and the medical staff had worked long and hard on repairing Sneijder’s damaged hamstring.
As an extra precaution against the midfielder breaking down, he was supplied with a heat-inducing pair of fetching black tights that would have done Nureyev proud.
With the little Dutch dancer in the middle of the park there was no sign that Inter were going to take a siege mentality to the east.
In fact, until Andriy Shevchenko’s deflected goal, the visitors had enjoyed more possession – but then of course the old doubts started to creep in as passes went astray, tackles were missed and the locals could sense an Italian collapse.
All credit then to Jose for taking the game to the hosts at the start of the second half by sending on Thiago Motta, who hadn't played for three weeks, and the unpredictable Mario Balotelli.
If ever Mourinho’s changes needed to work then it had to be on this occasion.
Uncharacteristically, experienced European performer Samuel Eto’o wasted two glorious chances; equally unexpectedly, sub Sulley Muntari helped set up the winner with a speculative shot which the aptly-named Bogush fumbled for the Dutchman to lash in a late winner.
The result: Inter’s first win in the competition since October 2008 and from bottom of the group to top in five short minutes.
It's the kind of night to foster the self-belief that this side can finally carry home the Holy Grail.
Now Mourinho has to maintain the buoyant mood.
Tellingly, he has become less inclined to get involved in petty arguments with his peers and media – and dominating the domestic league has certainly left his critics with little opportunity to snipe at him.
The job's not done yet: any of the four teams can still qualify.
But just as city cousins AC Milan had a glamorous night out in Spain, Inter travel to face Barcelona at the end of the month.
A win would send out a clear message that Inter are genuine contenders (and, coupled with a Rubin Kazan draw, would send the holders out).
For sheer pressure-free entertainment then Florence is the place to be.
Another big European scoreline and Fiorentina are almost in touching distance of the knockout stages.
Lyon will be a mighty challenge, but the Viola do not know how to play for a draw.
So if they do make the two-legged affairs then they could be one of those fan-favourites capable of scoring five or conceding five.
Italian football may not be back at numero uno just yet, but the European exploits this week suggest it is getting there.
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