Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Inter 3-1 Barcelona: The Nerazzurri Storm Back To Stun Holders


Inter came from a goal behind to record a famous victory over European Champions Barcelona at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, as the Italian giants move into pole position to reach the Champions League final.

Pedro had given the Blaugrana an early lead, but the Nerazzurri roared back thanks to goals from Wesley Sneijder, full-back Maicon and Diego Milito, and it is advantage Jose Mourinho heading into the second leg next week.

The pre-match team news saw Pep Guardiola offer Zlatan Ibrahimovic a return to his former stomping ground for the second time this season, after proving his fitness, and the Swede partnered Lionel Messi and Pedro in attack.

Jose Mourinho, meanwhile also employed an offensive formation, with Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o offered capable support by the roving Wesley Sneijder.

The atmosphere crackled from kick-off, and was befitting of the occasion. The Giuseppe Meazza positively rocked, but the home support was left frustrated by a pair of debatable calls in the opening ten minutes.

Firstly, the wily Milito looked to have timed his run perfectly to spring Barcelona’s offside trap, but the assistant referee’s eventual flag for offside was met by a chorus of disdain from the Nerrazzuri faithful. Moments later, they were up in arms once more, as Eto’o looked to have legitimately robbed Maxwell of possession, and he was shown an early booking for kicking the ball away in disgust as play was halted.

Then, we had the first sight of goal of the contest. Samuel Eto’o picked up the ball on the edge of the area, and his curling effort could only be beaten away by Victor Valdes. However, Milito on the follow up slammed his effort straight across goal.

But for their vibrant start, you just cant afford this Barcelona team chances, and the reigning champions hit a hammer blow on the 19th minute.

Maxwell, a former Inter player, was allowed to roam freely to the by-line almost unchallenged, and his cutback landed perfectly at the feet of Pedro, who coolly slotted home from 15 yards.

It was the young winger’s 20th strike of a hugely fruitful campaign, and even this early in the tie, Inter faced a monumental task. They had failed to score against the Blaugrana in the last four meetings, and now they would be forced to chase the game.

However, to the credit of Mourinho’s side, they were undeterred from their game plan. Milito should have perhaps looked to pick out Eto’o but instead curled wide of the post from the corner of the six-yard area.

Moments later, though, The Argentine showed inspired awareness to divert Eto’o’s low cross into the path of Sneijder, who beat Valdes calmly from just inside the area, and the match was level on the half-hour mark.

It was a frenetic opening 45 minutes, in contrast to the closely-fought tactical tussle many had foreseen, but Guardiola’s side sought to slow down the contest as the interval approached. The Catalan side enjoyed a spell of possession, with Xavi at the heart, probing and searching for the slightest gap, but Inter stayed resolute.

At the beginning of the second half, Inter immediately appeared to press further up the pitch in an attempt to allow Barcelona less time to control the pace of the game, and Mourinho watched in satisfaction as his team turned the match on its head.

Milito again peeled away from Pique to pull out wide, and provide the pass into the feet of Maicon. The Brazilian still had plenty of work to do, but his control and volleyed finish was perfect, and he nestled his effort into the corner.

Inter were most definitely in the ascendency, and Barcelona, uncharacteristically, appeared shaken.

However, there was almost an instant response, as the incessant tempo of the match continued unabated. Firstly, Messi stung the gloves of Julio Cesar with a long range shot, then Sergio Busquets somehow headed straight at the Brazilian number one from just six yards out.

But Inter were hugely impressive throughout the contest, and their comeback from going behind so early on was complete when Diego Milito added a deserved third.

Thiago Motta started another Inter counter-attack from deep in his own half, picking out Samuel Eto’o on the wing. His cross found Sneijder arriving late, but while his effort looked to be heading off target, Milito was in the right place to simply nod into the net past the exposed Valdes.

It was 3-1 – Barcelona’s players looked around in disbelief; it was the first time this season they have conceded more than twice in a single match.

Guradiola’s response was to remove the utterly ineffective Ibrahimovic, who barely touched the ball during the entire match, and bring on Eric Abidal and reshuffle his side.

Barcelona were the dominant force in the closing stages, knowing that another away goal would swing the pendulum back in their favour. Gerard Pique camped in the Nerazzuri penalty area, causing havoc, and on a number of occasions almost found the killer touch to net a vital consolation.

Then, controversy. Daniel Alves stumbled under the challenge of Wesley Sneijder, and it appeared to be a cast-iron penalty kick. However, the referee booked Alves for simulation, to the disbelief of the Brazilian.

Barcelona continued to attack, throwing forward wave after wave, but the damage had already been inflicted, and in the end it was a famous night for Inter and their coach Jose Mourinho.

However, this tie is far from over yet.


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