For 90 minutes on Sunday evening, every Inter fan’s favourite team was Sampdoria. The Blucerchiati survived a first-half onslaught from Roma at the Stadio Olimpico to come away with an unlikely 2-1 victory and have, as a result, almost handed lo Scudetto to the Nerazzurri.
After their 3-1 win over Atalanta on Saturday, Inter knew that this was the best round of the remaining four to breach the gap and overtake Roma again at the top of Serie A. Samp had been playing very well and beaten Milan one week previously, so they had every right to go to Rome believing that a win was possible. How Jose Mourinho’s heart must have leapt when Giampaolo Pazzini scored Sampdoria’s winner on the break, putting the ‘Special One’ and his team in with a very real possibility of winning the treble this season.
Interestingly, Inter themselves have to travel to Rome next week to face Lazio in what will surely be the most difficult of their final three fixtures. Quite which Lazio side will turn up is something that they will be slightly worried about, because the Biancocelesti are not completely out of the relegation fight yet and, although they will not want to do Roma any favours, must first think about their own survival in the division.
Before that, though, la Beneamata must face another away day, this time at the Camp Nou in Barcelona in a match that is without doubt the most important of the season. The 3-1 advantage held by the Italians will give them confidence, but Barca will surely unleash all of their considerable attacking talent to give Inter another 90 minutes where they cannot afford to put a foot wrong. It also looks like Wesley Sneijder is going to miss the match on Wednesday which is a huge blow, because the Dutchman has scored a lot of important Champions League goals since arriving in January and has become vital to the way that the side play. Whether his absence will cause Mourinho to change his tactical plan is uncertain, but to replace Sneijder with a more defensive player like Sulley Muntari could be a mistake, as the Nerazzurri will need to be able to take chances on the counter and a player with the passing vision to create those chances.
Meanwhile, Barcelona have been playing mind games of their own, suggesting that the referee in the first leg favoured Inter because of his nationality – Portuguese – being the same as that of the Inter Coach. The Catalan side felt cheated after Diego Milito’s goal was allowed despite suspicions of offside and thought that they should have had a penalty after Sneijder’s challenge on Daniel Alves. Inter President Massimo Moratti voiced his concerns that the European champions were putting pressure on the referee for the second-leg and accused them of creating tension ahead of Wednesday’s game.
The real issue is whether Barca have learned from their mistakes in the first-leg because, despite Inter’s excellent performance, the Catalan defence was a shambles and made things much easier for the Nerazzurri strikers. Plus, with Carles Puyol suspended, Barca will be without the man that always seems to make the vital block and, with Alves being a somewhat absentee defender, Gabriel Milito will have a lot of pressure resting on his shoulders.
Wednesday’s game should be a delight for all football fans as it is what European competition is all about. Two teams – both champions of their respective countries – who are both desperate to win for very different reasons, Barca want to become the first team in the Champions League era to retain the trophy, whilst Inter want to end the years of being the second team in Milan as far as European success is concerned and make their first final appearance since the 1971-72 season. It should be a classic.