Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Having experienced those final twenty minutes or so of intense Barcelona pressure should come in handy for Inter at the Nou Camp next week, as it is exactly the kind of bombardment they are likely to endure in the second leg.
Jose Mourinho’s well-moulded men now stand on the cusp of history-making and will go into the return leg of their Champions League semi-final with an aim of doing what they do best: grinding out a result but now with a newly acquired fluency.
The two-goal cushion fits perfectly with Mourinho’s approach where the air will be suffocated out of the Barca attack, much as it was at the San Siro, but at the same time as we saw at Stamford Bridge and then in Moscow the opportunity to attack quickly will not be spurned.
The Italian press had been certain that Mou would play a lone striker and flood the midfield but once again the Portuguese confounded those supposedly in the know and although he went with one up front support arrived from a fast-breaking midfield and full-backs with winged feet.
We all know their names, but Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o, Goran Pandev and Wesley Sneijder stretched the much-vaunted visitors to breaking point while Douglas Maicon and the ageless Javier Zanetti were tireless in their impulse to get forward.
Tucked in behind, Esteban Cambiasso and Thiago Motta were uncompromising whenever Leo Messi and co. ventured anywhere near the penalty area, and when they did manage to breach the first line of defence, Lucio and Walter Samuel were all flailing boots when it was needed while Julio Cesar was back to his imperious best.
There was only once that this compact group was drawn out of position on Mou’s chessboard and they paid for it with a goal.
However, taking the game to the road travellers was the perfect riposte and even a goal down there was a belief that opportunities would be created at the other end.
There was no need to chase down Messi as the little Argentine drifted out of the game more times than he drifted inside from the left wing.
There was something of the street urchin about him as Zanetti and Cambiasso brushed him off like busy businessmen on their way to an important meeting [Madrid anyone] although he did demonstrate his street-fighting instincts when he laid Maicon out with a clattering shoulder charge, accidental or not.
It was dazzling evening for Inter and the only one casting dark looks and muttered curses was the unfortunate Mario Balotelli whose error-ridden appearance as a late substitute after Milito cramped up was greeted with a chorus of whistles.
The teenager’s huffy reaction shows how far he has to go to develop in the world of football and how little he seemed to understand the significance of the occasion for the Inter fans who were last in the final of Europe’s premier competition before a good number of the crowd were born – 1972 by the way - and eighteen years before the player saw the light of day.
There is little doubt that the poor mite will be looking on from the outside come next week if not for the rest of the season – in the ongoing struggle to win over the Nerazzurri masses there is now only one clear victor – and it was Jose’s name that was being chanted well into the night.
However, Balotelli’s moody moment was a mere sub-plot in what now will be a return leg where Barca will be hoping that the referee is a little more eagle-eyed when it comes to their players going down under challenges inside the area as was the case with Sneijder’s tackle on Dani Alves.
No doubt Mourinho will be putting equal pressure on the official not to be influenced by the surroundings just as he will be cajoling his players towards taking that final step on the road to achieving legendary status.
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