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TB On April - 14 - 2011

Inter-View: The Champions Wave Goodbye

Schalke 2 – Inter 1 (7 -3 agg.)

It had been labeled Mission: Impossible.  In the end, it truly was.

After last week’s Champions League spanking at the hands of Schalke 04, there was no miracle or historic comeback for Inter Milan.  The defending champions of Europe are out of the tournament, dashing any hopes of becoming the first Champions League back to back winners in the current format.

The message had been clear since the final whistle of the first leg: To win by at least a four goal margin.  The task seemed insurmountable, but if anyone could overturn the 5-2 deficit, it would be Inter.  All the players believed it was possible.  Samuel Eto’o told stories of comebacks during his time at Barcelona, while Captain Javier Zanetti, Marco Materazzi and other senior members of the squad echoed the Nerazzurri tifosi sentiment of “Ci Crediamo” (We Believe).

Even ex-Inter manager Jose Mourinho said “we” will try to win and that this Inter has the character, personality and ability to face tough situations head on.  Unfortunately, by full time on Wednesday evening, everything was to no avail as Inter fell to Schalke 2-1 on the night and 7-3 on the aggregate score line.

Coming off a 2 - 0 league win versus Chievo Verona at the weekend, things were looking positive for the Nerazzurri.  After serving a one match suspension, Lucio would be available to partner Andrea Ranocchia in central defense and would be counted upon to steady the shaky Inter defense.  Also morale boosting was the return of Walter Samuel to the squad list following more than 150 days out due to his cruciate ligament injury.  There was no chance of Samuel returning to action for this match, but his sheer presence hoped to be inspirational to the team.

Inter coach Leonardo decided on a relatively conservative 4-3-1-2 formation.  In front of Julio Cesar was a backline of Maicon, Lucio, Ranocchia, and Yuto Nagatomo, who had an impressive game against Chievo.  The midfield consisted of Zanetti, Thiago Motta and Dejan Stankovic, with Wesley Sneijder playing behind Diego Milito and Eto’o.  A major shock was the exclusion of midfield general Esteban Cambiasso from the starting eleven, as Leo opted to start Motta as the anchor in midfield.

The Nerazzurri needed to come out of the blocks blazing with intensity, but instead took a very cautious and tentative approach.  Inter needed to score four yet the play did not mirror the necessity.  Much of the play ran through the congested midfield, as the away side tried to force their way through with passing that was all too telegraphed.  Inter had nothing to show for after a flurry of consecutive corners which were defended well by Schalke.  The Italian side controlled possession, but chances on goal were few and far between.

Both Maicon and Nagatomo were expected to fly down the flanks and attack the Germans with width, but any movement forward resulted in crosses that did not amount to anything.  Diego Milito cut a lonely and isolated figure up top, as service from the midfield was lacking.  Eto’o tried to weave his magic down the left in hopes of once again saving his team, but any attempts of slick passing or one-two combinations were quickly snuffed out by the opposition.  Schalke was well organized and closed down spaces early, leaving Inter with very little to work with.

As time wound down in the first half, Inter were made to pay as Raul cut through the Inter defense to score for the home side.  Now 6-2 on aggregate, the hopes of a comeback were slim to none.  The second half saw more of the same, except Goran Pandev came on to replace Dejan Stankovic at the interval.  Thiago Motta bumbled in an away goal soon after the restart, but it was too little, too late.  Schalke put an exclamation point on the tie, as Howedes scored to make it 2 – 1 with less than ten minutes left of regulation.  The final whistle could not come soon enough.

It has been a humbling week and a half period in the Inter camp, between the Milan derby and Champions League losses.  Losing is always a bitter pill to swallow but the season is not over.  The Nerazzurri are still in the running for the Scudetto and Coppa Italia and every match from here on out is a final.

As much as there is disappointment in not being able to defend the Champions League any further, the sheer fact that Inter have been able to bounce back after such a terrible first half of the season should be noted.  Up next is this weekend’s trip away to relegation threatened Parma, where a tough match can be guaranteed.  A Nerazzurri win is vital not only for the Scudetto chase, but also for the psyche of the whole squad.  Inter will need to pick themselves up after being knocked out and show the true heart of champions.

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