Thirty eight years after Giacinto Facchetti scored the goal to stun Liverpool and march to their second European Cup final on a 4-3 aggregate, it was Jose Mourinho and his men keeping their date with destiny.
In a contemporary twist, the Nerazzurri did that day what Barcelona failed to accomplish today, overcome a 3-1 deficit. There was no away goal advantage, Inter actually had to score three goals to advance. An almost impossible feat was achieved. In the final, they overcame Benfica through the incomparable Jair.
Mourrinho’s passage to the Bernabeu was equally thorny. Through the Camp Nou fortress. A task of monumental proportions against a team brimming with firepower and imbued with a fiery ambition of its own, to see them crowned champions in the abode of their arch rivals. It did not start auspiciously for Mourinho as Goran Pandev retired with an injury minutes before kick off. Cristian Chivu was pressed into service.
What unfolded was one of the most extraordinary display of defensive mettle in modern times. It is hard to separate who did what and how many times they did what they had to do but they did what they had to do to get to where they had to go.To the Bernabeu.
Lucio, Walter Samuel, Cristian Chivu, Sneijder, Cambiasso, all threw their bodies behind the ball and turned the area in front of Julio Cesar into a sea of white shirts as Barca desperately tried scaling the ramparts.
To be fair, Motta’s ejection in the 26′ minute simplified Mourinho’s tactics. Till then he had maintained a modicum of counterattack. With Motta gone and Inter down to ten men, it was clear that they had to defend the rest of the game. Inter’s full court press began deep in Barca territory as Milito and Sneijder’s tireless striving slowed the champions down. Their normally self assured passing game was challenged repeatedly by the scuffling Inter players as Barca increasingly resorted to long distance efforts.
With 75% possession and 45 minutes of ball control it would appear it was a matter of time before Barca would breach Inter. Stunningly enough they only managed four shots at goal. But one of them produced the save of the century. Messi’s wickedly curling shot was goalward bound when Julio Cesar lunged full tilt, body horizontal, every sinew stretched and with finger tips changed its course.
A few minutes before, Sergio Busquets adding to his bag of mendacity, went down like a pole axed steer after Thiago Motta in a bone headed display pushed the midfielder on the face. I had predicted that these two would engage in extra-curricular activities and they did not disappoint. Frank De Bleekere punished Motta by producing a red card. A bit harsh. But Motta should have known better.
Pique showed a superb touch in the 84th minute to give Barca hope as the Camp Nou faithful returned to a full throated exhortation of their team to look for that decisive second goal. Pique took control of Xavi’s outlet pass after holding the line, faked full back Ivan Cordoba and Julio Cesar by stopping on a dime, swiveled around, and swept the ball into an empty net. It was a goal that Messi would have been proud of. A moment that restored faith in their style and destiny. And it looked like a Chelsea deja vu was on the cards.
Dani Alves had a case for a spot kick when he was held back by Muntari but De Bleekere turned it down. Inter’s hearts were in their mouths moments later when Bojan took Yaya Toure’s pass and shot the ball past Cesar in what appeared to be that triumphant goal. Luckily, De Bleekere had spotted Toure’s handball before the pass and the goal was called back.
Giacinto Facchetti would have applauded this feat. These Nerazzurri are ready to become legends.