MILAN: If Inter Milan beat holders Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final first-leg at the San Siro this evening, they can thank Mother Nature for a helping hand.
The all-conquering Spaniards faced an arduous two-day coach journey just to make it to the game due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland last week. With flights grounded all over Europe and trains crammed full of travellers trying to get home, Barca decided that taking the long route along the roads and crossing three countries, was the only way to arrive.
But they’re not complaining. “We’ll have to see what happens with problems surrounding the trip to Milan, but the team is really up for the game,” said Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will be facing his old club. “Who wouldn’t be. It’s a Champions League semi-final.”
“We have to put this [travel] behind us and focus on the Champions League semi-final ahead of us,” said midfield maestro Xavi. “We’re in with a chance of reaching another final and we don’t want to throw that away.” The competition’s other semifinalists are Lyon and Bayern Munich, who play tomorrow, and the French club said Sunday they had no choice but to adopt similar measures.
Which side do I play for again?
There is the added spice of not only Ibrahimovic returning to his old stomping ground - for he was Inter Milan’s point man last season - but Samuel Eto’o, a scorer in two successful Champions League finals with Barca, playing against his former team-mates. Barcelona and Inter Milan swapped their strikers with Barca giving up €25 million and Eto’o for Ibrahimovic.
And Eto’o, more than anyone else, knows how hard it will be to dethrone the champions.
“How do you prepare to play Barcelona? With calmness. We have to try to get our heads into the game before it starts because games like this are almost played more with the head than with the feet,” he said before insisting that he would have no problems celebrating against his former team.
“If I was to score at the San Siro of course I’ll celebrate but maybe if I score in the Camp Nou I won’t.”
The two sides have already met in the group stages with the San Siro game finishing in a 0-0 stalemate before Barca put on a master-class in a 2-0 win at the Camp Nou.
While the Catalans won the treble last season - La Liga, Champions League and the Spanish Cup - and thus matched the achievement of Manchester United in 1999, Inter are dreaming of joining that select band this season. Already they are through to the Coppa Italia final and are second in Serie A, just a point behind AS Roma. But if they are to achieve the treble, one suspects that this will be the biggest hurdle to surpass.
“Are we good enough to beat Barcelona? We hope so but we’re playing the best team in the world in terms of quality and class,” said captain Javier Zanetti, who has racked up 500 games for the Italians. “But when you get a bit tired, you need intelligence. That’s how you overcome these moments.” It’s not just volcanic ash that is against Barcelona, though, as Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta is out injured while Inter Milan will be at full strength.
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