Straight from the dark heart of Italy
When Inter needed to win a trophy to add a little gloss to a disappointing season, they resorted to a tried and tested approach: playing the Mourinho way.
The Special One’s long shadow was cast over Leonardo’s methods in nullifying Palermo in the Italian Cup Final to give Samuel Eto’o a glimpse of goal to inflict the necessary damage.
The spoiling tactics were helped by Palermo’s inability to hit the target when it counted, with Abel Hernandez and Javier Pastore both guilty of missing presentable chances early on – the former after a mere fifty seconds.
Inter’s struck the first blow with their first real sight of goal, as Eto’o latched on to a sublime through ball from the equally impressive Wesley Sneijder just before the half-hour mark to open the scoring.
That breakthrough came just after Palermo had seen central defender Dorin Goian limp off to be replaced by Moris Carrozzieri – suitably immobile on only his second appearance following a two-year ban for testing positive for cocaine use.
Inter took the chances presented to them but for long periods the game was played out in the middle third of the pitch, where the Nerazzurri were quite content to kill the pace of the contest by any and every means possible, including rolling around on the ground whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini was his usual magnanimous self in defeat, accusing Inter of being nothing more than thieves – christening them The Beagle Boys after the cartoon criminal characters from a fifties comic strip.
At least an apology was forthcoming, and rather than lament the opposition’s tactics he should be full of praise for his team, none of whom had ever played in a major final - unless you count the Slovenian Cup Final - and end speculation surrounding the future of put-upon coach Delio Rossi by offering him something longer than a one-year contract.
Backed by 40,000 fans inside the Olympic Stadium in Rome, the likes of Javier Pastore, Josip Illic, Hernandez and the 18-year-old Afriyie Acquah played with verve, pace and determination and were only undone by their wayward finishing.
They deserved more and for a moment there was a glimmer of hope that they may get it when Ezequiel Munoz pulled a goal back with two minutes remaining, only for the centre back to be sent-off soon after for a second yellow card. Replays suggested the young Argentine had touched the ball before clattering into MacDonald Mariga, but that was no help to Palermo.
It was on such slight margins that the match slipped away from the Rosanero, leaving Eto’o to carry off the bounty in his shopping bag – a goal celebration the Cameroonian first unveiled in the final of the World Club Cup – to close the season with 37 goals in all competitions with only the woodwork denying him drawing level with such legends Antonio Angelillo, Giuseppe Meazza and Gunnar Nordhal in all-time goalscoring charts.
So, three trophies for Inter but the Italian Cup, Super Cup and World Club Cup hardly compare with the exploits of last season, although Leonardo has at least tucked away his first trophy.
The Brazilian will now be given more time to plot his revenge against AC Milan and it was fitting that he ended up celebrating in front of the same section of the ground where only a few weeks ago Rino Gattuso had joined in with the Rossoneri Ultras in a merry ditty blasting their former coach.
As Massimiliano Allegri pointed out recently, Leonardo is too much of a gentleman at times but there was no doubt that he was deeply hurt that Milan failed to force Gattuso into a public apology.
However, he can expect Moratti to loosen the purse strings for one or possibly two major signings, one of which could well be Alexis Sanchez, although not if Udinese fail to lower their €30 million valuation for the Chile winger.
The general feeling is that Inter’s ‘special’ relationship with Udinese could hold sway in bringing the 22-year-old to the San Siro, pepping up an attack that has become over-reliant on Eto’o and at the same time halting growing complaints that the club is unwilling to invest in fresh faces as Milan failed to do for too many seasons.
With their city rivals reclaiming the summit on the domestic front, and considering the upheaval of the first three quarters of the season, winning the Italian Cup turned out to be a rather special way for Inter to end a difficult season.
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