Jose Mourinho’s post match gestures at the Camp Nou showed that the mere translator was indeed a special one after all. Inter gave an immaculate defensive performance to completely shut out the most feared side in Europe. The extent of Inter’s efficiency in defense was shown when a side like Barcelona, with arguably the most potent attack in Europe, had hardly three or four real chances on goal even after enjoying the majority of possession.
The Triumphant One
The atmosphere at the Camp Nou was electrifying and visually stunning. The Catalan side had failed to find the net at the Camp Nou in their last four semi-final matches in the UEFA Champions League and this had to change if they were to have any chance of progressing to the final at the Bernabeu.
The return leg of the semi final clash between FC Barcelona and Internazionale Milano was expected to be a cagey affair. Mourinho was confidently sitting on his two goals advantage from the first leg and was in no mood to let that advantage slip.
Both teams started with a 4-3-3. Goran Pandev was out due to injury and was replaced in the line-up by Cristian Chivu. Barcelona made a couple of changes as well with Gabriel Milito replacing the suspended Puyol and Yaya Toure coming into the line-up in place of Maxwell.
The game-plan of the two managers was clear from the outset. Barcelona looked to settle down into a passing rhythm early while Inter looked to sit deep and hit Barcelona on the counter.
It was a subdued start from both teams with very few chances to speak off. The first real incident of the half was when Motta was booked for a mistimed tackle on Dani Alves.
The stand out moment of the first half though was the red card for Thiago Motta. Busquets challenged Motta to gain possession of the ball and, in his endeavor to keep possession, Motta pushed Busquets back with his hand. His hand accidently struck Busquets on the face and the young Spaniard went down in a heap. The Belgian referee saw it fit to send the Brazilian off and Inter were reduced to 10 men in the 27th minute of the match. The decision was a bit harsh and one that replays suggested was warranted.
This meant a change in tactics for Inter as Mourinho decided to drop both Eto’o and Chivu back into mid field with Diego Milito playing as the lone forward up front.
With Inter down to 10 men, Barcelona began to take charge of the game. Messi came up with a little magic of his own when he skipped past two defenders on the edge of the box and took a low curling shot towards the bottom left corner, only to see his shot brilliantly saved by the impressive Julio Cesar.
Julio Cesar was booked moments later for time wasting as tensions began to grow as the end of the half grew nearer. Chivu was booked in the 42nd minute for a silly tackle on Messi. Barcelona had a final chance at goal at the fag end of the first half but Ibrahimovic’s free kick flew wide of the goal and the referee called an end to the first half.
Guardiola brought on Maxwell at half time. The Brazilian replaced Milito in a move which was aimed at making the most of the numerical advantage on the pitch. With Mourinho opting to go for a narrow formation, Barcelona had no other option but to attack from the wings as space was a luxury down the center.
The game continued to be played in Inter’s half and Inter did not look too worried about it as they were very resolute in defense. Barcelona, on the other hand, were clearly running out of ideas and were creating nothing concrete.
In the 63rd minute, Pep brought on Bojan Krkic for Ibrahimovic and Jeffren for Busquets as a last throw of the dice in order to get that elusive opening goal.
Barcelona had the best chance of the game in the 81st minute when Messi sent in a beautifully weighed in cross only for Bojan to miss an open header.
Barcelona eventually got a goal in the 84th minute when Pique, playing in an advanced role latched onto Xavi’s pass and floored both Cesar and Cordoba before sweeping the ball into the net. There was a hint of off-side in the goal but the linesman was unmoved and the goal stood. The goal brought the crowd back to the life and the 90,000 fans inside the Camp Nou began to whistle and cheer as the Catalans went in search of the goal that would send them through to the final.
Bojan almost became a Catalan hero when he smashed home in the 92nd minute to the horror of the Inter fans. It was not to be though as the referee had already pulled the play back for a handball by Yaya Toure. Replays suggested that the decision was a bit harsh as the handball wasn’t intentional but the decision stood and the goal was discounted. That would be the last scoring chance for Barcelona as Inter held on to book their place in the final at the Bernabeu.
It was a wonderful display of defensive football by Inter and one which meant that the defending champions would take no further part in the competition.
With two exceptional tacticians in Mourinho and Van Gaal hoping to become only the third manager ever to win European cups as coaches of two different clubs, after Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld, we can expect fireworks in Madrid come May 22.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Lucio (Inter Milan)
It was a cohesive, gritty and determined team performance, where Inter displayed the classic Italian defending. The discipline, communication and organization was impeccable and even with ten men Inter produced a memorable team performance to keep an aggressive Barca at bay in there home. Lucio was an absolute leader in defense, anticipating every move of Zlatan, Messi, Xavi and Pedro. He did not put a foot wrong during the entire game and deserves all the plaudits. For a resilient defensive display, Lucio is definitely the Player of the match.
TheHardTackle’s REFEREE REPORT CARD
Name: Frank De Bleeckere (BEL)
Grade: C- (Poor)
The Belgium referee who had officiated 38 Champion’s League games before, was absolutely dismal. Even the assistant referees were poor and gave away several woeful decisions for offside. The decision to send off Thiago Motta was horrible and inexplicable. On the whole, too card happy and involved in a number of wrong calls.
FC BARCELONA 1-0 INTER MILAN
Venue: Camp Nou
FC Barcelona line-up: Valdes, Alves, Millito (Maxwell ’46), Pique, Maxwell, Busquets (Jefferen ’63), Keita, Xavi, Messi, Ibrahimovic (Bojan ’63), Pedro
Manager: Josep Guardiola
Sent Off: None.
Scorers: Pique (’82)
Inter Milan line-up: Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Zanetti, Motta, Cambiasso, Sneijder (Muntari ’66), Eto’o (Mariga ’86), Milito (Cordoba’81), Chivu
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Cautions: Motta, Cesar, Chivu, Lucio, Muntari
Sent Off: Motta