MILAN: Inter Milan produced a stunning performance to beat holders Barcelona 3-1 in the Champions League semi-final first-leg at the San Siro on Tuesday. Goals from Wesley Sneijder, Maicon and Diego Milito extinguished Pedro Rodriguez’s opener for Barca and sent the Nerazzuri faithful into raptures ahead of next week’s second leg at the Camp Nou.
It was a tactical masterclass from Jose Mourinho as his team wiped out memories of the lessons Barca gave them in the group stages back in September and November. Mourinho picked an attacking line-up with three forwards plus playmaker Sneijder in midfield and from the off they demonstrated a willingness to take on the champions. Defensive lapses Inter were looking relaxed and confident but a minute later they fell behind through some dreadful defending.
Former Inter left-back Maxwell ran far too easily down the left past three non-challenges, reaching the byline where he pulled the ball back and with Inter’s defenders preoccupied by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the centre, Pedro came in off the right flank to drill the ball home from 15 yards. Yet on the half hour mark, Inter got the equaliser they deserved as Maicon played Eto’o down the right, he pulled the ball back into the middle and Milito took it off Goran Pandev’s foot but then fed it on to the unmarked Sneijder at the back post for a right-footed finish. In that first half Barca had enjoyed almost 65 per cent of the possession but Inter were showing that their coach’s assertion – after the pair met in the group stages that you can play well without the ball – certainly rang true.
Inter’s first half had been impressive but they started the second at a canter with Pandev shedding off three players in the midfield and then playing Milito behind the backline, the Argentine pulling the ball back for the charging Maicon to prod home his second goal in successive games, just three minutes in. ‘Missing’ Messi Messi finally woke up and got his first shot off on 53 minutes but Julio Cesar parried it and the Brazilian stopper had to be alert moments later to block a closerange Sergio Busquets header from a corner, although the Spaniard should have scored. But Barca could not handle Inter’s attacking flair and on 61 minutes Eto’o crossed from the right and Sneijder’s poor header bounced up for Milito, arriving at the back post, to nod home. Barca took total possession of the ball in the closing stages and Inter survived one scramble in the box as Lucio blocked Gerard Pique’s prod from a tight angle on the line. AFP