The last time Inter and Barcelona squared off at San Siro Stadium before tomorrow was on April 20th, 2010. It was the first leg of a Champions League Semi Final. Due to an ash cloud generated by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, which was causing multiple fight cancellations across the Continent, the incumbent European Champions – Josep Guardiola’s invincible Barcelona – couldn’t fly to Milan. All airports in Northern Italy, as well as in Central Europe, were closed.
The Blaugrana initially thought to fly to Pisa and then reach Milan by bus, but the situation in the skies worsened and resulted in most Spanish airports to be closed as well. The Spaniards thus asked UEFA to postpone the game, but the European federation replied that there were no dates available. The game must be played.
The only chance left was thus reaching the capital of the Lombardy Region via bus directly from Barcelona, with a stop-over in Cannes. But even after such an unexpected odyssey, coach Josep Guardiola was adamant in his pre-match remarks to press: “This must not be an excuse.”
Inter, then trained by Jose Mourinho, had a better start, but right when the Nerazzurri seemed close to score, the lead was unexpectedly taken by the Catalans – which wore a questionable pink outfit for the occasion. Inter’s former defender Maxwell dashed on the left flank, and produced a cross which Pedro converted with a sharp left-foot shot.
The home side didn’t lose their focus however, and found an equalizer less than 10 minutes later. Diego Milito caught a pass by Samuel Eto’o in the box, and protected the ball before serving Wesley Sneijder, whose right foot shot beat Victor Valdez and brought the score to 1-1.
Right after the break, Inter hit again: This time it was Goran Pandev’s turn to serve Milito, who produced a second assist for Maicon. The Brazilian right back controlled the ball, and put it past the Blaugrana goalkeeper again. Barcelona’s reaction was furious, but keeper Julio Cesar pushed back all their attempts. With 30 minutes to go, the Nerazzurri even found the third goal: Milito finally made it to the scorecard, correcting with a header a clumsy shooting attempt by Sneijder, well served by Eto’o.
The visitors kept pushing for a second goal to keep their hopes alive in view of the second leg, but all their confused attempts crashed into the black-and-blue defensive wall. Still, just a few minutes before the end, a borderline tackle by Sneijder on Dani Alves in the box risked ruining everything for Inter. But Portuguese referee Olegàrio Benquerença booked the Brazilian for diving, rather than awarding a penalty. San Siro could breathe a sigh of relief.
Inter’s fort held even during the retour match in Barcelona, where the Blaugrana managed to win only 1-0 thanks to a lone goal by Gerard Pique. José Mourinho and his troops could thus bring the Nerazzurri back to the top European competition’s Final after 38 years, a first step towards their fantastic triplete – winning the Scudetto, the Coppa Italia, and the Champions League in the same season.
April 20, 2010 – Champions League 2009-2010 Semi Final
SCORERS: 19’ Pedro (B), 30’ Sneijder (I), 48’ Maicon (I), 61’ D. Milito (I)
|INTER (4-2-3-1): Julio Cesar, Maicon (73’ Chivu), Lucio, Samuel, J. Zanetti, Cambiasso, Motta, Eto’o, Sneijder, Pandev (56’ Stankovic), D. Milito (75’ Balotelli) (Orlandoni, Cordoba, Materazzi, Muntari) Coach: Mourinho|
|BARCELONA (4-3-3): Valdes, Dani Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Xavi, Busquets, Keita, Pedro, Ibrahimovic (62’ Abidal), Messi (Pinto, G. Milito, Jeffren, Y. Touré, Bojan, Henry) Coach: Guardiola|
REFEREE: Benquerença (Portugal)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Eto’o, Stankovic (I), Busquets, Puyol, Pique, Keita, Dani Alves (B)
Translated by Matteo Carnevale