Manchester United 2-0 Inter Milan: Nerazzurri Complete Italy’s Big European Disillusion (UEFA Champions League Round of 16, Second Leg)

Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic, bottom left, reacts with teammate Rio Ferdinand, top left, after scoring a goal during their Champions League second round, second leg, soccer match against Inter Milan at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. (AP Photo)

Bad luck? I don’t buy it. Okay, had Inter’s woodwork efforts (Zlatan’s crossbar and Adriano’s post) entered the net you probably wouldn’t be reading these lines now, but certainly there are factors other than old-fashioned “sfiga” (as the Italian press is claiming) explaining Inter‘s defeat at the hands of Manchester United Wednesday.

How about the fact that for the third consecutive year, Inter are out of the UEFA Champions League in the round of 16? How about “Man Utd played better, and showed 100% cynicism by converting their two biggest scoring chances in the game”? How about the fact that yet again, English club football has proven its superiority over its Italian counterpart? It’s sad to admit folks, but the truth often hurts and this case is no different: for the late part of the 2000′s, EPL >>> Serie A big time.

As for José, at least in the eyes of the English press he’s just “not special any mour“.

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Man Utd vs. Inter Milan

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Round of 16, Second Leg - Man Utd 2-0 Inter Milan

Mourinho’s initial strategy was to take as much defensive cover as possible: Balotelli won the race with Mançini for right “universal” winger (that is, the ability to transform into an added fullback if need be), and inserted himself into the thick five-man midfield imagined by the Portuguese manager. Adriano stayed on the bench. On the other end, Sir Alex made three changes compared to the first leg: Vidic returned in defense after his Club World Cup suspension, Scholes took over Fletcher in the centre, while Rooney replaced Park alongside Dimitar Berbatov.

For United, this was the same 4-2-3-1 module fielded at the San Siro only this time, the Red Devils’ lead came so quickly that it rapidly converted to a more comfortable 4-4-2. Indeed, just 4 minutes had passed when a Giggs corner-kick was accurately deflected by Nemanja Vidic into the bottom-left corner, but not before leaving Vieira in the wind. 1-0 Man Utd and a big bucket of ice-cold water for Inter, who needed a good 20 minutes to recover from it.

Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic, center left, scores against Inter Milan during their Champions League Second Round Second Leg soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Wednesday, March 11, 2009.  (AP Photo)

The main dangers for the Nerazzurri were coming along the wings: predictably not only Ronaldo’s accelerations, but also Giggs showing the full extent of his Red Devil experience (793 matches with Man Utd). The Welshman was brilliant at opening spaces for his team-mates, and the foreseeable Devils earthquake produced (apart from the opening goal) a few other “highlight reel moments”, among which a sliding Samuel handball and an incredible missed chance for John O’Shea, saved by the prompt intervention of Julio Cesar.

Mourinho’s words before the match (“They will start strong. If they score first we must remain calm; all we need is one goal.“) now seemed like a prophecy. Inter reacted and began to attack, despite Ibrahimovic missing the proper support up front to properly set up his team’s counters. In the first half, four good chances posed threat for Van der Sar: a crossbar for Zlatan, a curling cannonball from the distance by Stankovic (deflected into corner, not given), yet another short-range deflection by the Serbian midfielder (wide), and another diagonal shot by Ibrahimovic (inches wide after a great Balotelli through ball). It certainly had nothing to do with the San Siro first half: Inter were active and fighting, one-touch passing being the key to effectively unravel their opponents’ centre-backs. O’Shea had certainly shown his limits in trying to contain Mario Balotelli, often having to revert to brute force more than finesse.

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo (L) celebrates with Wayne Rooney after scoring during their Champions League soccer match against Inter Milan in Manchester, northern England, March 11, 2009.  (REUTERS)

Mere illusions of “possibility” however, as (just like in the first half) United only needed 4 minutes after the break to seal the game. As usual Giggs directed the orchestra, Rooney assisted (beautiful cross in the box in between two Inter defenders), Ronaldo finished it off (good header anticipating Julio Cesar). First UCL goal for the Ballon d’Or winner, and 2-0 Man Utd: a deal-clincher.

Mourinho tried to keep his team alive by adding Adriano to the Nerazzurri attack, and it immediately paid dividends. Almost. Because the last time I checked, hitting the woodwork has no effect on a match’s scoreline (still, O Imperador‘s volleyed effort on Cambiasso’s cross was a great display of athleticism). Later, Berbatov made a mess of the 3-0 tally after picking up a Julio Cesar-deflected Rooney howitzer, and was shortly followed by Ronaldo who had the Inter keeper deflect another one of his free-kick executions. It just wasn’t Inter’s night, certainly not Zlatan’s (yet again failing to be decisive in important matches) with the Swedish striker missing another short-range redirect, after a mis-headed clearance by Patrice Evra.

After the game, Mourinho’s post-match reactions varied from an alleged punch to a United supporter, to declarations of strong conviction his team will win the Scudetto. I say good for him. Meanwhile after throwing away the Coppa Italia, Inter will be joining Juve and Roma in the living room to watch the UCL Quarter-finals on TV. Ladies & gentlemen, evil England has triumphed.

Inter Milan's coach Jose Mourinho looks at the ground before their Champions League soccer match against Manchester United in Manchester, northern England, March 11, 2009. (REUTERS)


Manchester United F.C.
2-0 (2-0 agg.)
[Match Highlights]
F.C. Internazionale Milano
GOALSCORERS: 4’ Vidic (M), 49’ C.Ronaldo (M).
MANCHESTER UTD (4-4-2): Van der Sar – O’Shea, R.Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra – C.Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes (70’ Anderson), Giggs – Rooney (84’ Park), Berbatov. (bench: Foster, Evans, Gibson, Fletcher, Tevez). Coach: Ferguson.
INTER (4-5-1): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Córdoba, Samuel, Santon – Stankovic (58’ Adriano), Cambiasso, Vieira (46’ Muntari), J.Zanetti, Balotelli (70’ Figo) – Ibrahimovic. (bench: Toldo, Maxwell, Rivas, Cruz). Coach: Mourinho.


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Posted in English Premiership, Inter, UEFA Champions League |

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