Manchester United must be upset that they did not get that valuable away goal that their dominance deserved. But the rare profligacy of Cristiano Ronaldo combined with the exceptional goalkeeping of Júlio César prevented the European champions from taking a commanding first-leg lead away from the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. The draw, however, was enough for United to set a new record of 20 games unbeaten in the competition.
Inter’s fans unveiled a banner of a snake, their club symbol, as the players took to the field, but it was United, and Ronaldo in particular, who showed more bite during a one-sided first half in which the Portugal international had no fewer than seven goalscoring chances. Ronaldo drew Cristian Chivu into a foul inside 60 seconds and fired the subsequent free-kick straight at César.
Four minutes later the goalkeeper was again forced into action, repelling Ronaldo’s powerful header from Ryan Giggs’ corner. Ronaldo did beat the Brazilian custodian soon afterwards, but his long-range effort, from another free-kick, fizzed just wide.
In a frenetic opening half-hour the hosts had trouble containing their vibrant visitors whose quick, attacking football contrasted vastly with Inter, who were far less fluid. Both Dejan Stanković and Zlatan Ibrahimović tried their luck from range but neither came close to troubling Edwin van der Sar. Most of the action was at the other end where Ronaldo twice went close again, on each occasion heading narrowly past the post.
Inter were being overrun by the relentless waves of United attacks, which brought a chance for Giggs on 26 minutes. The Welshman span past Nelson Rivas’s diving challenge and hared through, but César narrowed the angle and made a superb block. Moments later the hosts gave away another free-kick and Ronaldo’s shot looked goalbound until the excellent Nerazzurri keeper somehow got a hand to the searing low shot.
Quite how Inter managed to survive until half-time was anybody’s guess, but they looked a completely different team after the break. The hosts took to the front foot from the whistle, coming close in their first attack as Esteban Cambiasso surged down the left and crossed for Ibrahimović. The Sweden striker let the ball run for Adriano, who miscued his shot with the goal at his mercy. At the other end Ronaldo remained a threat, crossing low from the right only for Park Ji-Sung to narrowly failed to turn in at full stretch. Giggs then weaved his way to the edge of the area to unleash a shot that Cordoba blocked.
With 12 minutes left José Mourinho threw on Mario Balotelli and Julio Cruz in a bid to snatch a late goal and the former soon picked out Cambiasso who somehow failed to turn the ball over the line with his chest from a metre out. Inter had rallied, but there was to be no sting in the tail for the Serie A side.