Inter Milan stunned Barcelona to take a 3-1 first-leg lead in their UEFA Champions League semi-final.
José Mourinho’s team inflicted only a fourth defeat of the season on a Barcelona side bidding to make modern history by retaining the trophy. Instead, the goals from Wesley Sneijder, Maicon and Diego Milito, in response to Pedro Rodríguez’s away goal, will greatly encourage Inter’s own dream of a first European crown since 1965.
The first danger to an Inter side contesting their eighth European Champion Clubs’ Cup semi-final was Zlatan Ibrahimović’s periscopic leg that just failed to reach a Maxwell cross. With the Nerazzurri protecting a proud record of never having lost at home in those semi-finals Mourinho chose, as he had against Chelsea, to deploy Sneijder ahead of midfield minders Thiago Motta and Esteban Cambiasso.
Cambiasso soon suggested that Lionel Messi may indeed be human by dispossessing his compatriot in the Inter half, initiating a move that ended with Milito’s jinking run into the Barcelona area. Milito might also have done better from a rebound after Víctor Valdés had parried former team-mate Samuel Eto’o’s bobbling shot. Instead, one of Barcelona’s two ex-Interistas, alongside Ibrahimović, helped hit his old club with a sucker-punch. Left-back Maxwell, unchecked by Maicon, broke into the box and his cutback invited Pedro to slot the ball past Júlio César.
Such precision was the missing ingredient as the half-hour approached, when left-sided attacker Goran Pandev slipped Milito through on goal and the striker angled his shot agonisingly wide. Milito made instant amends, however, creating a clear opening for Sneijder with his lay-off from Eto’o’s driven pass, and the playmaker drove in via the foot of Valdés. Barcelona had retained about 60% of possession after their 1,000km coach trip from Catalonia, yet the scoreboard showed parity. Indeed, Inter were doing justice to their noisy fans by giving at least as good as they got, even considering two vital Lucio blocks from Daniel Alves deliveries.
Inter were out first for the second half, and faster out of the blocks too as Milito fired a threatening cross which the unmarked Pandev narrowly failed to convert. Whatever Mourinho had told them at the interval, though, it worked. Pandev slipped in Milito who, though drawn wide of goal as he entered the area, still managed to tee up Maicon to finish from eight metres despite Seydou Keita’s attentions. Barça looked shaken by the hosts’ constant pressing yet they stirred sufficiently for Messi to test César, who then produced a reflex save from Sergio Busquets’s free header.
The next headed intervention brought a deserved goal for the hard-running Milto. The stadium was rocking after the inrushing Sneijder misdirected his header from Eto’o’s firm right-wing cross, only for Milito to nod in from close range. It was the first time world champions Barcelona had conceded three goals this season. For now, that nice piece of history that says AC Milan are the last club to win back-to-back European crowns has Inter as its unlikely safe keepers.