Inter Milan’s superb defensive performance in the Camp Nou solidified their place in this season’s Champions League final and saw manager Jose Mourinho race across the pitch in triumph at the final whistle. Whilst the \’Special One’s’ antics could have been construed as inciting the Barcelona crowd, the home side’s reaction was immature. Turning on the water sprinklers in the corner of the ground where Mourinho and his gathered squad were celebrating in front of a tiny pocket of Inter fans demonstrated childish contempt for the victors.
Barcelona pride themselves on their standing as one of the most attractive footballing sides on the planet and with good cause considering they won all six tournaments they entered last season.
But the Catalan club let themselves down baldy on Wednesday with Busquest’s histrionics in getting Thiago Motta sent off a microcosm of their frustration at failing to break down a stubborn Inter defence.
Turning the sprinklers on the Inter players merely underlined Barcelona’s frustration at failing to score the two goals that would have seen them through to a second consecutive Champions League final.
Mourinho had correctly pointed out in a press conference ahead of the semi-final that Barca’s obsession with reaching the Champions League final at the home of bitter rivals Real Madrid would cause them to lose focus. The much vaunted Catalan attack toiled for a full 80 minutes (and against 10 men for the majority of that time) before centre-back Pique finally breached the Italian club’s defence to score. It proved too little too late.
Mourinho’s pre-match comments and sideline antics only served to further enrage the Barcelona support whose frustration with their side’s inability to score intensified as the game progressed.
The Barca players seemed to feed off their fans’ irritation and looked devoid of ideas against a well-drilled and ultra-disciplined defence. Once again Inter nullified the attacking threat of Lionel Messi and thwarted the Argentinean midfielder with some so no-nonsense defending.
The back four of Samuel, Lucio, Maicon and Zanetti were marvellous and when Messi did manage to get a sight of goal Inter’s solid net-minder Cesar pulled off a terrific save.
Inter enjoyed their fair share of luck as well with Bojan’s header flying wide from six yards out when it looked easier to score. But the Italians will not care one iota and how many previous Champions League winners have needed lady luck to smile upon them before claiming Europe’s most prestigious football trophy?
Mourinho’s brilliance as a man-manager rather than a master tactician was further enhanced with the sight of former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o spending much of the second period in the left back position, back-peddling, defending and generally helping out his side.
Contrast the Cameroon international’s selfless display with the player who replaced him at Barca, Ibrahimovic, and you begin to wonder has Pep Guardiola made his first big mistake as a rookie manager.
The Swedish striker fumbled through another insipid display before being hauled off towards the end of the tie. Based on last night’s performance Mourinho definitely came out better off following last summer’s Eto’o – Ibrahimovic plus cash deal. The huge money garnered from the Swedish striker’s transfer was spent wisely including the acquisition of Dutch player-maker Wesley Sneijeder. Another Mourinho masterstroke as the Dutchman looks every inch the quality play-maker Real Madrid failed to utilise.
Now all that stands in the way of Inter Milan and Champions League glory is Bayern Munich. Managed by a previous boss of Mourinho’s, Louis Van Gaal will respect but not fear his former protÃ©gÃ©’s team.
Munich enter the final with the best defensive record of the tournament but crucially will be shorn of the attacking talents of the suspended Frank Ribery. The loss of the talismanic French attacker severely thwarts Bayern’s attacking threat. Munich will have little to offer going forward apart from Arjen Robben and the in-form Ivicia Olic.
If Mourinho’s Inter can repeat their defensive heroics from last night’s Camp Nou performance then they will certainly be able to handle anything the Germans can throw at them. What price another image of Mourinho racing across the Santiago Bernabeau playing surface in celebration of an historic Inter Milan triumph?
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled \’Off Centre Circle’, published by the Evening Echo, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork amateur soccer player.