Inter Milan put on a classy display as they outplayed the European Champions at the Giuseppe Meazza. The 3-1 scoreline was a clear indicator of the dominance of Inter. Barcelona took the lead through Pedro but goals from Wesley Sneijder, Maicon and Diego Milito saw Inter take a deserved lead into the second leg at the Camp Nou.
The semi final clash between these two sides was billed as the ‘final before the final’. Many predicted that the winner of this two legged clash would go on to win the final in Madrid. Inter and Barcelona had already met twice in the group stage with a draw at the San Siro and a victory for the Catalans at the Camp Nou. The match was built up to be a clash of the two best teams in Europe and it certainly lived up to its billing.
Jose Mourinho opted to throw caution to the wind and matched Barcelona’s attacking trident with one of his own. Inter started with three forwards in the form of Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o and Goran Pandev and started the first half looking to attack Barcelona. Inter had the better of the skirmishes in the initial period with Diego Milito missing two good chances to put the Italians infront. Both the chances were from an acute angle with only Valdes to beat but the Argentine managed to miss both. The first one saw a scuffed shot from Milito which went past the goal while the second saw the Argentine make a bad decision and go for goal himself with an unmarked Sneijder calling for the ball.
Barcelona made Inter pay for those misses as they took the lead in the 19th minute, slightly against the run of play. The goal came about due to some mediocre defending by Maicon and Cambiasso as they let Maxwell get past them quite easily. The Brazilian full back ran round the Inter defense before cutting the ball back for Pedro to slot home from just inside the box. Both teams were looking jittery at the back and Inter got a deserved equalizer through Wesley Sneijder at the half hour mark. The goal was again a result of a lapse in concentration on the part of the Barcelona defense. Eto’o sent in an under hit cross from the right side of mid field which found Diego Milito in the box. The Argentine was quickly closed down by Puyol but in a moment of madness, Alves came across to cover Milito, leaving Sneijder completely unmarked inside the box. Milito managed to pass the ball to the Dutchman who slotted home from close range to bring Inter level. The Italian Champions had the better scoring chances in the half though Barcelona finished the first half on an attacking note.
The second half again saw Inter come out of the blocks quicker than the Catalans and Pandev almost put Inter ahead but he was unable to get to a lovely ball from Milito. That would not be the case for long though as Inter took a deserved lead through Maicon in the 48th minute. Messi lost the ball in Inter’s half and the Italians broke at pace to catch the Barcelona defense off guard. The ball was passed to Milito in the box and just when it seemed Puyol had him covered, he cut the ball back for an advancing Maicon who managed to shrug off the challenge of Seydou Keita and poked the ball past Victor Valdes to put Inter ahead.
Barcelona looked ragged on the pitch while Inter looked more likely to increase their lead and that is exactly what happened when Inter caught Barcelona on the break again. After a small melee in the box, Eto’o’s header fell to Wesley Sneijder who headed it back to the far post where Diego Milito was waiting to head it past a helpless Victor Valdes. Replays suggested that the Argentine was offside but the flag stayed down and Inter took a two goal lead.
With his team struggling and his star player having a bad day at the office, Guardiola looked a bit lost on the side line. With the game in the balance, the Catalans finally woke up and started to exert pressure on Inter. Guardiola decided to bring Eric Abidal in place of Ibrahimovic and pushed Maxwell further up the pitch. Barcelona began to show some life with Messi finding some space to unleash a swerving shot which was well saved by Julio Cesar. Messi got another opportunity to test the Brazilian international but saw his dipping free kick well saved by Cesar. The last twenty minutes of the game saw the Catalans throwing everyone forward in a bid to get a second away goal but Inter was resolute in defense. Inter had a couple of chances of their own in the dying moments of the game. Sneijder’s touch deserted him at the wrong time when he was almost through on goal while Balotelli showed some impatience when a more composed effort could have brought a better result.
It was not Barcelona’s day as they were unlucky not to get a penalty when Dani Alves looked as if he was brought down inside the box. Replays suggested that the Brazilian was caught from behind by Wesley Sneijder but the referee thought otherwise and booked Alves for diving. There were some nervous moments for Inter in the dying moments of the second half with Gerard Pique causing some problems in the box but Inter held on for a famous victory and more importantly, a two goal advantage heading into the second leg in eight days time. Barcelona, on the other hand, have an uphill task on their hands if they are to progress to their second final in two years. Guardiola will feel that his side have let in one goal too many and it is definitely advantage Inter going into the second leg.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan)
The Dutchman put on a brilliant show and was a stand out in a classy Inter performance. His composure in mid field went a long way in unlocking the Barcelona defense. He also played his part in teaming with Zanetti to neutralize the threat of Lionel Messi. The tackle on Dani Alves was unnecessary and reckless but that was the only blot on an otherwise brilliant performance. An assist and a goal make him the stand out performer of the game.
A special mention must also be made for Diego Milito and Javier Zanetti, both of whom worked hard in what is a brilliant result for Inter Milan.
TheHardTackle’s REFEREE REPORT CARD
Name: Olegário Benquerença
Grade: C (Average)
The referee was guilty of being too card happy and made a few mistakes at key moments which could’ve turned the game either way. The yellow card for Daniel Alves was a bad decision as replays suggested that there was clear contact and the yellow for Dejan Stankovic for a slight touch was another ridiculous decision. The game didn’t look as fluent as it should have due to his propensity to stop play for every small touch.
INTER MILAN 3-1 FC BARCELONA
Venue: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza
Inter Milan line-up: Cesar, Maicon (Chivu ’73), Lucio, Samuel, Zanetti, Motta, Cambiasso, Sneijder, Eto’o, Milito (Balotelli ’75), Pandev (Stankovic 56’)
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Cautions: Eto’o, Stankovic
Sent Off: None.
Scorers: Sneijder (’30), Maicon (’48), Milito (’61)
FC Barcelona line-up: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell, Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Messi, Ibrahimovic (Abidal ’62), Pedro
Manager: Josep Guardiola
Cautions: Busquets, Puyol, Keita, Pique, Alves
Sent Off: None.
Scorers: Pedro (’19)