Inter’s victory last night ensured that there would be at least one Italian representative in the quarter-finals of a European competition. Now the focus shifts to Juventus as it prepares for a trip to London.
The papers have been filled with stories of how Mourinho outfoxed his old team and a similar discussion in this article might risk being one too many. However, there was definitely a lesson to be learnt from the Nerazzurri’s performance last night, that being – don’t be afraid to take the fight to the English. The Premier League may not have produced the greatest number of Champions League winners in the past five years, but it certainly has left many amazed (or disgusted) at its domination of the continent. Inter’s victory has been hailed by some as a sign of changing times, but one victory has never defined an era. Just as Inter arrives back in Italy, its domestic nemesis, Juve, will be preparing to board the flight to London for its encounter with Fulham on Thursday evening.
Italian teams were once the most daunting opponents in UEFA’s second-tier competition, but over the past decade their influence has waned. The 1990s, a golden period for Italian football, saw sides from the peninsula establish a monopoly over the UEFA Cup. An Italian team contested the final on nine occasions during the 90s and there were four all-Italian finals. Parma and Juventus won the competition twice each, whilst Inter won it on three occasions. Such domination was all the more noteworthy considering that the competition was far tougher then, with only the top two teams from each league going into the Champions League. However, the situation changed drastically in the noughties, as no Italian side reached the finals of the competition and all performed well below the expected levels.
This year has been no different, the Bianconeri being the sole Italian side remaining in the tournament. Roma unbelievably crashed out against Greek side Panathanaikos in the previous round, while Genoa and Lazio were eliminated in the group stages. There is an added aspect to the importance of Italian progress in Europe this year, as Serie A is in danger of slipping out of the top tier of European football. The UEFA coefficient system has seen the Bundesliga amass enough points to put Italy’s fourth Champions League qualifying spot in serious peril. Inter’s victory last night was thus one which was cheered on not just by Nerazzurri supporters, but the rest of the country.
Juventus are now the team the country needs to get behind as it looks to close out its tie with Fulham after gaining a 3-1 advantage in the home leg. The Bianconeri squad, however, has been hit by injuries, most notably in the goalkeeping department as both Gigi Buffon and Alex Manninger are sidelined. Antonio Chimenti is expected to stand in between the sticks, and will be hoping that his defence does a better job than the one it did against Siena last weekend. Giorgio Chiellini and Nicola Legrottaglie are also ruled out through injury and suspension respectively. Coach Alberto Zaccheroni may thus be forced to rethink his 3-4-1-2 formation. Alessandro Del Piero, who scored his 300th and 301st goals for the club against Siena, will be hoping he can celebrate his tally in London in a day’s time.
It is of paramount importance that Italy’s fiercest enemies go as far as they can in the European competitions because, more than anything else, the country needs it.