MILAN - Inter Milan, treble winners under
Jose Mourinho last season, saw their season disintegrate as they
collapsed 5-2 at home to a makeshift Schalke 04 side in their
Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday.
Four days after seeing their hopes of a sixth successive
scudetto crushed in a 3-0 defeat by rivals AC Milan, Inter's
hopes of retaining the Champions League were also in tatters
after another night of defensive calamity at the San Siro.
Andrea Ranocchia's own goal and Cristian Chivu's second red
card in as many games either side of the hour summed up Inter's
defensive misfortunes on a dismal night in Milan.
It was the first time a team defending the European Cup have
conceded five goals in a match home or away and added to the
pressure on coach Leonardo, the second man to occupy the hotspot
since Mourinho after Rafa Benitez's sacking in December.
The humiliation came against a Schalke 04 team who have
themselves had a turbulent season and were playing only their
second game under new coach Ralf Rangnick who was forced to
reshuffle the side after injuries to four key players.
Bundesliga runners-up last season, Schalke are a modest 10th
in the Bundesliga and last month fired coach Felix Magath under
pressure from fans angry at his increasingly all-powerful role
within the club and controversial transfers.
Yet it could have been completely different.
Dejan Stankovic scored an extraordinary goal after less than
a minute and Diego Milito, last season's Champions League hero,
notched his first in this season's competition as Inter twice
led in the opening half.
Leonardo put a brave face on a situation in which his team
are five points behind Milan in Serie A and needing a big win in
Gelsenkirchen next week to say in the Champions League.
"Of course, a lot has changed in these four days," he told
reporters. "But we have to change this situation... We must stay
together and we must try to forget these two heavy defeats.
"The first thing is to give our heads a rest. It's a very
mature squad, we need to use our energy on the pitch."
Inter could not have made a better start. With only 54
seconds played, Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer rushed out of
his area to head away Esteban Cambiasso's long ball forward only
to see his clearance land at the feet of Stankovic.
The Serb, who went off injured in the 24th minute, produced
an exquisite volley from just inside the halfway line which flew
over the bemused goalkeeper into the net.
But two headed chances for Raul showed that Inter's
defensive frailties were there to be exposed and it was no
surprise when Joel Matip levelled after 17 minutes.
In an end-to-end game, Milito, who scored both goals in last
season's 2-0 final win over Bayern Munich, broke his duck this
season, side-footing Inter back in front in the 34th minute from
fellow Argentine Cambiasso's header.
But Brazilian Edu, little known in his own country, sent
Schalke's famously diehard fans into raptures by equalising five
minutes before the break, scoring at the second attempt after
his better-known compatriot Julio Cesar saved his first effort.
The defining moments of the game came at the beginning of
the second half.
Inter made an electric start, Milito failing to put away a
clear chance after he scuttled clear of the Schalke defence, and
Neuer atoning for his earlier eccentricity with a superb save to
deny Samuel Eto'o.
They paid dearly in the 53rd minute when Raul collected
Jefferson Farfan's cross, held off his markers and clinically
beat Julio Cesar to extend his record as the competition's
leading scorer to 70 goals.
Four minutes later, disaster struck for the Italians when
Jose Manuel Jurado broke down the right and his low cross was
turned into his own net by Ranocchia.
Five minutes after that, Chivu - dismissed against AC Milan
on Saturday - was sent off for fouling Edu and picking up a
second yellow card.
Jurado and Farfan hit the post before 29-year-old journeyman
Edu scored on the turn from the edge of the area to wrap up the
scoring, sparking an exodus of Inter fans.
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