Bayern Munich 'Inter'red by the Nerazzurri comeback kings
Some games in football are won purely on tactics, some purely through spirit. The tactical victories appeal to our intelligence and make us stand and applaud the brilliance and appreciate the efficiency. The matches won through fighting spirit are the ones stick in our memories, make us rejoice in the valiant display of human courage from the rise of unlikely heroes and say, “Take a bow”; Manchester United‘s famous 1999 final victory, Newcastle United‘s 4-4 thriller over Arsenal being few of the many cases in point.
On an entertaining night in Munich which paid host to pulsating end to end attacking football, Inter Milan‘s 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich was, in the words of the Nerazzurri manager Leonardo, “all about heart”. The defending champions put together an incredible comeback that will go down as one of the most talked about matches of the season as they overcame a two goal aggregate deficit to knock the stuffing out of Bayern Munich in their own back yard.
After the defeat at the San Siro in the first leg last month, the defending champions came into the match with a strong intent to attack from the word ‘go’ to get the away goal. Samuel Eto’o, Inter’s man for the big occasions, provided his team with a dream start as he slotted home the opener in the third minute after a brilliant set-up from Goran Pandev put the Cameroonian through. As Leonardo and the camp celebrated, the complexion of the game began to change as Bayern Munich began to crawl back into the tie.
In the 21st minute, Bayern were handed the equaliser gift-wrapped by Julio Cesar just like in the first leg, who spilled Arjen Robben’s effort which then fell to Mario Gomez and the goal machine provided a splendid improvised finish by hooking the ball up above to leave the goal keeper shattered. With Cesar’s blunder, the Nerazzurri defence began to show nerves as Franck Ribery consistently skinned Douglas Maicon down the left flank and Arjen Robben made his trademark runs on the right and cut in-field to prove a nightmare for the visitors. Ten minutes after the first goal, it was defensive bed-rock Lucio’s turn to show his nerves as his incomplete interception of an Arjen Robben pass fell into the path of the waiting Thomas Muller who calmly put it into the back of Cesar’s net. Now two goals ahead on aggregate, Bayern refused to put a stop to their pressure as Inter’s nightmarish first half continued with a goal line clearance from Ranocchia and Robben’s fierce shot hitting the side-netting saving the Italians the blushes before the half time whistle.
With a vociferous home crowd against them, Inter looked broken at the end of the first period as their much famed defence began to crumble and the holders looked set to be on their way out. However, just like they have done so many times this season, Leonardo’s side would stage a comeback. And it began in the 63rd minute when Samuel Eto’o set Wesley Sneijder up and the Dutchman drilled a low shot into the far corner of Thomas Kraft’s goal. Having been anonymous in the first half, the Dutch play maker sprang to life as he consistently found space to spray well measured passes and threatened to combine with Samuel Eto’o on several occasions. Now feeling the heat and the need to hold on to their aggregate lead, the home side’s defence began to crumble as Inter continued to pour forward and look menacing. However, with their suspect defence, it was not long before they would let in the winning goal. In the 88th minute it was left to Goran Pandev to provide the grand stand finish as Samuel Eto’o skinned his marker to lay the ball off to the Macedonian who sent a thumping shot into the top corner and put the defending champions through to the quarter finals.
As Julio Cesar broke down in tears at the end of the match, no one could have summed up the match better than manager Leonardo.
“Seeing Julio cry at the final whistle was an emotional experience, as they were tears of joy and of rehabilitation. This victory cannot be explained, but only experienced.
It’s been a crazy season for Inter as they have had to cope with the departure of Jose Mourinho, the miserable reign of Rafael Benitez, long term absence of key players, slump in the domestic league and humiliating defeats in the Champions League group stages to Tottenham Hotspur and Werder Bremen. Yet, the club has made enormous strides in pulling themselves out of misery and staging fierce comebacks, illustrated most notably by their rise to second spot in the league after languishing at seventh at one point. And this match summed up their character as Leonardo got it bang on psychologically as he accomplished the hard task of keeping his champion team motivated. Bayern Munich’s defence fell apart in the second half but it still takes a lot of courage for a team to play away in the Allianz Arena and stage a two goal comeback.
In the words of Esteban Cambiasso, “Inter have a heart”, the heart to turn setbacks into positive motivation consistently. This fighter’s mentality is what is the hallmark of a champion side and one can’t help but wonder if the Italian side would go all the way this season as well and lift the trophy at Wembley. One thing we learned however is that Inter may not have the defensive solidarity and efficiency of last year, but they have the never-say-spirit that is so characteristic of the club.
Massimo Moratti said after the emotional roller coaster ride,
“God of football is strange”.
What is stranger is the calm confidence he displayed about next round’s opponents, “As for the quarter-finals, I bet we’ll get Barcelona again” and smiled. After a performance like the one in Munich, why wouldn’t he be confident about taking on the tournament’s favourites! After all, his team are the European champions and proved they are championship material yet again, through sheer spirit.