Inter welcome CSKA Moscow to Milan this evening in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final. A victory is essential for the Nerazzurri as the team plays the second leg on the cold, artificial turf of the Luzhniki Stadium.
Inter’s Dejan Stankovic said that the team would prefer to face CSKA Moscow after the grueling battle with Chelsea and, in that respect, the draw for once was kind on Inter. CSKA are by no means European heavyweights, this being the first time a Russian team has made it into the last eight of the Champions League.
However, it would be criminal to underestimate the strengths Leonid Slutsky’s squad, particularly after witnessing their performances in the competition so far. The Muscovites have shown great resilience and strength of character to get as far as they have done and will be looking to extend their impressive run. The team managed to make it out of the group stages with a respectable 10 points, finishing second to Manchester United in a group also featuring German champions Wolfsburg.
The team has a great mix of young talent and experienced veterans with many of its players having caught the attention of the scouts around Europe. Miloš Krasić has been widely touted as the next Pavel Nedved, not only because of an uncanny resemblance but for his playing style. The Serb has brilliant close control and, with his graceful running style, can beat markers with ease. He has scored some decisive goals for CSKA and, as Jose Mourinho has said: “He always scores”.
The young duo of Alan Dzagoev and Tomáš Necid in attacking midfield is also capable of causing serious problems for the Inter defence. Both players are quite fast and good headers of the ball, something which is likely to be a concern for Mourinho’s side who are missing Lucio through suspension. Chilean Mark Gonzalez and Japanese Keisuke Honda are two other players Inter will have to keep an eye on. Honda has been remarkable since joining the club earlier this year and it was his thunderous shot that paved CSKA’s way to the last eight.
In Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksei Berezutski, CSKA can count on two experienced defenders who are a part of the national team set-up. The tough tackling stoppers are solid in the air and it is hard to see Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito winning too many aerial battles against them. The last time these two sides met was in the group stages of the 2007/08 season when Inter walked away with victories from both games. A 2-1 victory in Moscow was overshadowed by a brilliant 4-2 win in Milan inspired by the now departed Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Following the recent controversies which have enveloped the club, the Inter camp will be hoping for a performance of similar quality to their second-leg win over Chelsea in the last sixteen. Relations between Jose Mourinho and Mario Balotelli plumbed new depths following the latter’s call to Chiambretti Night when he refused to apologise to the Portuguese tactician. Mourinho himself has been none too smart lately, claiming last night for the umpteenth time that he was unhappy in Italy but, crucially, happy with Inter. Such declarations by the Coach must have some kind of an impact behind the scenes and, after the loss to Roma, it may have been wise for Jose to keep his head down and get on with the job in hand.
This is surely Inter’s best chance of making the semi-finals for many seasons and it would be unwise to relax in any way. Last night, Bayern Munich showed that even the best teams in this competition are beatable and Inter now has the opportunity it has been waiting for all these years to make an impact on the European scene.