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TB On April - 27 - 2011

The Inter-View: Signs Of Life?

The Easter holiday held a perfect metaphor for Inter, as this past weekend saw the resurrection of something that had been severely lacking through April: a return of the Nerazzurri’s fighting spirit.

An intriguing match was on the cards, pitting third place Inter versus fourth place Lazio.  This was going to be a difficult test for both sides and there was definitely no chance of a Lazio rollover, as seen in Inter’s quest for the treble last season.  The Roman side looked to complete the league double over Inter, while the home team wanted to avenge the loss the Biancoceleste handed them in December at the Stadio Olimpico.

The Nerazzurri started a formidable lineup, going with a 4-3-1-2.  In front of Julio Cesar in goal were Maicon, Lucio, Andrea Ranocchia and Yuto Nagatomo.  The midfield consisted of Captain Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Dejan Stankovic, while Wesley Sneijder played behind the strike force of Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o.

The game was very open, with no signs whatsoever of being a cagey affair.  Both sides had possession of the ball and there were chances at both ends of the field.  The match was turned on its head in the 22nd minute in shocking fashion.  Cesar was called for a foul on Mauro Zarate in the penalty box, therefore conceding the spot kick and receiving a straight red card.  Inter were down to ten men and after Milito was sacrificed for second string goalkeeper Luca Castellazzi, they also found themselves a goal down.

The situation looked to be dire for the Milanese side, as there was more than an hour left to play while being a man down and losing by one goal.  Many expected the Nerazzurri to fold under pressure, but this is where pure pride and character came into question and Inter needed to show the fighting spirit they were known for to silence the critics.

How Inter silenced the critics was nothing short of spectacular.  With a little more than five minutes left in the first half, Eto’o was fouled on the edge of the Lazio penalty box and up stepped Sneijder to take the free kick.  Always dangerous in these situations, the Dutchman needed a touch of brilliance to bring his team back into the game.  Sneijder did not disappoint.  He curled the ball over Fernando Muslera’s wall and into the top left corner of the Lazio net, sending the Giuseppe Meazza into a frenzy.  As he celebrated, he pointed up towards the director’s box and Inter president Massimo Moratti, and then turned to acknowledge and applaud the Curva Nord.

Going into halftime, there was no doubt that Inter was holding the momentum and it carried into the next 45 minutes.  Unfortunately early in the second half, Stankovic came off injured but rarely used MacDonald Mariga came on as his substitute.  Within a minute of the forced change, the Nerazzurri were leading through a masterfully taken Eto’o goal.  After Zanetti played a pass forward from the right side of central midfield (while falling), the Cameroonian read the ball perfectly and took full advantage of Giuseppe Biava’s slip in defense.  Eto’o dribbled by the Lazio defender and goalkeeper, slotting home his first goal in the month of April.  The Meazza exploded with joy as ten man Inter showed the tenacity and grit that had gone missing for the majority of this month.

It was now a matter of holding on to the lead against eleven men and forty minutes to go, but Inter’s cause was further helped by a red card on Stefano Mauri, who fouled Nagatomo from behind.  With 25 minutes left, both teams were now fielding ten men apiece.  Lazio had opportunities to put the equalizer into the back of the net, but gratuitous misses and a little help from the crossbar kept the ball out.  The five minutes of added time could not have ended soon enough and when the final whistle blew, Inter had the sweet taste of victory in the league once again.

By the time full time had come, the ninety minutes was a pure rollercoaster of not only emotions, but also in the league standings.  Due to the Napoli loss, Inter found themselves in second place.  How often do you see a match where a team starts in third, falls to fourth by halftime, and ends up in second at the end of the day?  For Pazza Inter, it’s just another day at the office.

After two days off coinciding with the Easter holidays, it is back to work at Appiano Gentile and focus is on this weekend’s matchup against Cesena.  The diagnosis on Stankovic’s injury is a second grade adductor strain in his left leg and he could be out anywhere between 15-30 days.  It is likely he will miss the remainder of the season.  Thiago Motta and Castellazzi (who picked up a slight knock versus Lazio) completed individual training programs, while Walter Samuel could make his triumphant return to the Inter squad this Saturday.  Julio Cesar will definitely miss the trip to Cesena, as a consequence of the straight red he received.

As the season starts to wind down, this is not the time to let up for the Nerazzurri.  Still at stake is second place and an automatic Champions League berth, as well as the Coppa Italia.  It is imperative that Inter go full speed ahead and finish the season with a bang

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