The English Premier League came out on top in the first legs of the Anglo-Italian ties after three stellar match-ups produced tight, cagey affairs.
Tuesday February 24, 2009
Inter 0-0 Manchester United
Tuesday saw the match of the two country’s respective Champions and league leaders. Inter hosted Manchester United with Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson pitting their wits against one another for a thirteenth time. The Special One seemed to have the upper hand over his wily opposite number but it was Fergie’s Red Devils who would leave the San Siro the happier. The game finished goalless but there was chances for either side to nick a crucial lead as we head for Old Trafford in two weeks time with the tie firmly in the balance.
Mourinho had teased Fergie before the encounter that his United side would arrive at the San Siro to defend because of their respect for the Milan giants. And the surprise exclusion of Wayne Rooney seemed to justify the Portuguese Coach’s pre-match comments but as the first half unfolded the Special One’s smug grin and arrogant stance diminished as his side were outplayed, outfought and outclassed. Cristiano Ronaldo’s firm header tested Julio Cesar after just four minutes before the Portuguese winger had numerous long range free-kick attempts only to be thwarted time and again by the wall and the unbeatable Cesar. Ryan Giggs freed Dimitar Berbatov who failed to square for the on rushing Ji-Sung Park, before the Welshman was sent clean through only to fire at Cesar who was proving a worthy adversary. Giggs and Michael Carrick continued to totally dominate the game in the centre of the park as the Nerazzurri were in total awe of their opponents and barely in the game.
But with Man Utd failing to capitalise on their first half dominance, Mourinho stirred his troops at the break and the home side came out much stronger. Adriano had an early sight of goal after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s clever dummy but the Brazilian made a hash of his effort. Inter desperately tried to take the game to their opponents with Esteban Cambiasso the driving force but the Nerazzurri failed to create anything of real danger. United were dangerous on the break and Ronaldo squared for what would have been a tap in for Park or the sluggish Berbatov but both were a few yards short. Wayne Rooney entered the fray with little over five minutes left and but for an injury time Ronaldo free-kick which Cesar fumbled – the game rather petered out.
Old Trafford will be an interesting setting come two weeks time, and on this evidence the Premier League Champions look set to continue their bid for successive Champions League silverware. Inter will need to improve or they will endure more European disappointment.
Arsenal 1-0 Roma
Tuesday’s other big Anglo-Italian match-up saw Roma travel to the Emirates to take on Arsenal. With both sides suffering indifferent league campaigns, European success was imperative for what will otherwise be a disappointing season.
It proved to be a much more open affair than the match at the San Siro yet it provided just the singular goal. Robin Van Persie’s first half penalty proved the difference but the tie is far from over and both sides will fancy their chances going into the second leg. Although Luciano Spalletti will know his side will have to offer a lot more when the teams meet in Rome in a fortnight.
I Lupi struggled for any possession in the first half and couldn’t contain the forward trio of Van Persie, Nicolas Bendtner and the inspirational Samir Nasri. Although the Gunners had plenty of the ball and found some decent openings they failed to test the Roma goal for most of the opening exchanges. That was until the 37th minute when Phillipe Mexes clumsily felled Van Persie who confidently despatched the resulting penalty.
The second half began in bizarre fashion as William Gallas and the superstitious Kolo Toure were late rejoining the match leaving Arsenal with just nine men as the second period kicked off. When the two centre-halves rejoined the action, Arsene Wenger’s men began piling on the pressure. Bendtner fired over from ten yards before Abou Diaby’s low drive was superbly tipped round the post by Alexander Doni. Emmanuel Eboue went close moments later as Arsenal chased that elusive second. But those chances came and went and but for a deflected John Arne Riise strike that whistled past the post, the Giallorossi posed nothing to threaten the Arsenal rearguard. Inspirational skipper Francesco Totti was visibly hampered after only being passed fit earlier in the day which all but blunted the Roman attack.
But the return leg is a different day and a different match. After comfortably dispatching Chelsea earlier in the season, Spalletti’s side will fancy their chances at the Stadio Olimpico, with Wenger and his young side regretting those costly misses. It’s pleasantly poised.
Wednesday February 25, 2009
Wednesday saw the emotional return of Claudio Ranieri to his old stomping ground. Stamford Bridge welcomed back their former Coach but it proved to be a rather dull night in West London. A single Didier Drogba strike earned Chelsea the advantage but this like the other two is still on a knife’s edge for the second leg.
Salomon Kalou slid in his Ivory Coast compatriot who fired home on 13 minutes for what proved to be the winner but Claudio Ranieri will be content with his side’s showing. They were probably Italy’s finest performers of the week and gave their English opponents some frightful moments, especially in the second half – in which they dominated.
However the West Londoners leapt out the traps with early efforts from Drogba and Kalou, with the latter forcing a fine save from Gianluigi Buffon. Alessandro Del Piero’s quick turn and shot required a smart save from Petr Cech before Drogba’s ambitious penalty claims were waved away. The second half became a slower more tepid game but the Old Lady just about shaded it. The quiet Nicolas Anelka let fly a vicious effort that had Buffon well beaten but flew just the wrong side of the post. Late chances fell for David Trezeguet who rather spectacularly blew it and Pavel Nedved whose deflected strike crept inches wide with almost the last kick of the game. Most of the ground thought it was in and although Ranieri heads home with a defeat he will be rightly optimistic for the return leg, with this one surely going down to the wire.
With all the hype proceeding the Anglo-Italian ties we were always going to be left a little disappointed but with just two goals and three tight affairs it wasn’t exactly compelling viewing. However we are left with three delicately poised ties that will have plenty of thrills and spills as we find out who is superior in this country vs. country warfare.
England have won the first battle…………but who will win the war?