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Inter's road to the final in Madrid

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Inter's road to the final in Madrid

Postby FCBayernNews » Thu May 20, 2010 6:45 pm

Any team which had to play Barcelona four times and also duel Chelsea home and away has earned the right to be in the Champions League final. Internazionale's route to Europe's showpiece game was certainly not an easy one. Like Bayern, the newly-crowned Italian double winners were unsure almost until the last second whether they would qualify from the group phase before clinching their place in the Round of 16. Thereafter, José Mourinho's side convincingly hit their stride, culminating in their heroic semi-final performance in Barcelona to keep the reigning European champions at bay while a man down.

The final seemed a long way away as Inter made a stuttering start to their European campaign. After three draws - 0-0 at home to Barcelona, 1-1 at Rubin Kazan and 2-2 against Dynamo Kiev - Mourinho's men found themselves bottom of Group F at the halfway stage with three points to four for all their group opponents, with just one home game to come.

Turning point in Kiev

A double strike in the closing minutes of Inter's fourth group match, against Dynamo in Kiev, proved to be a turning point. Four minutes from the end the Ukrainians were leading 1-0 through Andriy Shevchenko, but the visitors turned the game on its head with late goals from Argentine poacher Diego Milito and Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder, who had arrived from Real Madrid shortly before the start of the group stage.

The unlooked-for 2-1 victory revived the club's chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages, and the three points were all the more valuable after Inter suffered a fresh setback in their penultimate group game in Barcelona, never recovering from two goals conceded in the first 26 minutes. That left the Milan club needing a victory away to Rubin Kazan in the final game, which was duly achieved through goals by Samuel Eto'o in the 31st minute and Mario Balotelli in the 64th.

Return to Chelsea

Mourinho's former club Chelsea waited in the round of 16, but Inter earned a 2-1 lead from the first leg at the San Siro, Milito stunning the visitors with a goal in the third minute and Esteban Cambiasso scoring the 55th-minute winner after Salomon Kalou had equalised for the Londoners four minutes earlier. A 1-0 victory would have sufficed for Chelsea in the return, but they were frustrated by the remarkable defensive performance of a back four including former Bayern man Lucio. Despite Chelsea's increasingly desperate efforts to break through, Inter's defence kept scoring chances to a minimum until the 78th minute, when Eto'o broke away to score the only goal of the game and seal a 3-1 aggregate victory.

The quarter-finals posed a difficult challenge in the form of CSKA Moscow, who had eliminated Sevilla in the previous round. Without the suspended Lucio, Inter won 1-0 in Milan thanks to another goal from Milito in the 65th minute, but Mourinho wasn't happy - "We should have had several more goals," he raged afterwards over his forwards' profligacy.

The Portuguese coach was also concerned about playing the return leg on an artificial pitch in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, but in the event he had no need to worry. Sneijder deflated CSKA's ambitions with a goal direct from a free kick as early as the sixth minute, and thereafter Inter coasted to victory.

Revenge over Barca

The semi-final brought a second clash with Barcelona, who suffered an unexpected blow to their preparations by having to take a 1,000-kilometre coach journey to Milan after flights were grounded by volcanic ash. Although Pedro Rodriguez put the Catalans into a 19th-minute lead at the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, Sneijder in the 30th minute, Maicon in the 48th and the inevitable Milito in the 61st gave Inter an impressive 3-1 victory to take into the second leg.

Prospects looked grim for Inter when Thiago Motta was sent off after 28 minutes at Camp Nou, but once again Mourinho's side demonstrated defensive qualities of the highest class. Although Gerard Piqué eventually gave Barcelona the lead in the 84th minute, it was not enough. Inter's aggregate victory put them in the final of Europe's premier club competition for the first time in 38 years, where they will seek a third victory to add to those of 1964 and 1965 under legendary coach Helenio Herrera.
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