Inter Milan came out on top of a close game in the San Siro tonight to take a 2-1 aggregate lead to London with them in three weeks time. The Italians took the lead inside just three minutes when Diego Milito opened the scoring with a slick turn and finish inside the Chelsea box. Inter were second best for large spells of the game and saw their lead disappear when a speculative Salomon Kalou shot was softly let in by Julio Cesar. The Nerazzurri quickly battled back however and ultimately emerged victorious thanks to an Esteban Cambiasso strike just minutes after losing their lead. Elsewhere in Europe CSKA Moscow and Sevilla played out a 1-1 draw in Russia.
Italy is a land synonymous with romance and hence Milan seems as fitting a spot as any for this battle, with a sub-plot brimming with a love theme William Shakespeare would have been proud of, to have been played out. Mourinho, the jilted lover with a new lady on his arm welcomed his old flame over for dinner tonight and sent her back from where she came perhaps wishing he was still the man in her life. The self proclaimed “special one”, still harbouring feelings for the woman who chewed him up and spit him out only two years previously, had spent the days before his reunion trading blows with the man who now sleeps in his bed and just like he had come out on top in that clash, he would do likewise tonight.
Inter Milan had failed to score (continuing the love theme somewhat) in their last four encounters with English opposition however any such fear that this run would continue much further was quickly put to rest when the Italians stormed ahead before a bead of sweat had formed on any of the games’ participants.
Fabio Capello sat in the stands tonight and will return to his World Cup planning lair with fresh worries over the hopes of his adopted nation to reign victorious in South Africa this summer. With just over two minutes on the clock, Samuel Eto’o slid a ball towards Wesley Sneijder on the edge of the Chelsea box. The Dutchman cleverly stepped over it, allowing it to make its way toward Diego Milito who found himself facing shamed former England captain John Terry in front of the opposition goal.
For all Terry’s qualities and there are many, the Chelsea skipper also has definite inadequacies in his ability to be the all round perfect defender that Capello can only dream of. His heart, determination and leadership is unquestionable but one thing that Terry does not possess is speed and slight of foot. Crucially tonight, these flaws were exposed once more. Upon receiving the ball, Milito cut inside the big Englishman and blasted a low shot past Petr Cech to the delight of the home fans. Terry’s responsibility was clear, Milito had sold him with a simple drop of the shoulder and, like a juggernaut attempting a U-turn, Terry could not hope to right himself in time to stop him inflicting a crucial early blow upon his team. Capello, who earlier learned that his new captain, Rio Ferdinand, was once more experiencing trouble with his back, could not have been watching comfortably as Milito span away in celebration.
Chelsea rallied around well after going behind and indeed controlled play for most of the remainder of the game. During his time at Chelsea, Mourinho preferred his side to play effective yet non-attractive football and this style seemed evident once more tonight as the Londoners, enjoying the freedom afforded to them by Ancelotti began turning up the heat on their hosts. The Blues very nearly grabbed a quick equalizer when a trademark Dider Drogba freekick cannoned off the crossbar as a hopeless Julio Cesar tried in vain to get anywhere near it. Salomon Kalou and Michael Ballack also came close with efforts on either side of Drogba’s attempt and Julio Cesar was required to be alert in dealing with them.
Inter’s possession was limited throughout the half, however the best chance of the opening 45 minutes aside from the goal fell their way despite Chelseas dominance. Wesley Sneijder got the ball on the left flank and drilled a low cross into the heart of the Chelsea penalty area. The ball fell to the feet of Samuel Eto’o who looked destined to divert it into the net. As the crowd prepared to rejoice however, the Cameroonian miscued his effort and the ball was promptly removed from the danger zone by the Londoners defense.
One of the game’s big talking points occurred just prior to half time when Chelsea had a strong penalty shout turned down by Spanish referee Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez. Salomon Kalou dribbled menacingly toward the Inter goal and was just yards from the posts when a clumsy tackle from Walter Samuel brought him down. Replays would show that the defender had gotten none of the ball and the hosts were more than lucky to go into halftime still holding the lead. This advantage would not last for long more however.
It took Chelsea just six minutes into the second half to bag a well deserved equalizer and an all important away goal. An excellent foraging run from Branislav Ivanovic resulted in the ball falling to Kalou outside the Inter Milan box. The Ivorian opened up his body and bent a shot toward the bottom corner of the goal. Julio Cesar dived toward the effort and looked certain to turn it around the post, however the Brazilian allowed it bounce over his hands and into the net to the dismay of his teammates. Kalou, along with his fellow players made their way towards the Chelsea bench in celebration and a show of allegiance with their curent boss.
Their joy was short-lived however, for just four minutes later, Esteban Cambiasso blasted a left foot drive past Petr Cech to regain the lead for his side. It was a fine effort from the Argentinian, especially since his first effort just seconds before hand was blocked by Ivanovic. The midfielder quickly reset his feet and drilled the ball past a hopeless Cech who himself was still trying to recover from the attempted save made in anticipation of the first attempt making its way toward him.
Things went from bad to worse soon after for Chelsea when Cech was forced to leave the action with what is a suspected knee ligament injury picked up when innocuously catching a ball with no other player near him. Hilario came on to replace him and although the absence of the the Czech international did not result in any more goals being conceded this evening, his non-presence in future games will most certainly be a concern as Chelsea chase trophies on three fronts. Ancelotti will be praying that scans show hope for a quick return for his number one.
Much like they had done after going behind earlier, Chelsea quickly regained control of the game and could have equalized again had efforts from Lampard and Mikel been more clinical in their precision.
Overall, Chelsea will return to base with confidence that they showed enough tonight to ultimately prevail in the tie and will be pleased that they at least bring an away goal back to Stamford Bridge with them. Then again, with Mourinho bringing his new squeeze to the home in which he shared so many happy memories with still something to prove, there may be a lot more twists to come in this tale.
Beware the manager scorned.
Inter Milan: Julio Cesar, Maicon, Samuel, Lucio, Zanetti, Stankovic (Muntari 84), Cambiasso, Motta (Balotelli 58), Sneijder, Eto’o (Pandev 67), Milito.
Unused Subs: Toldo, Cordoba, Quaresma, Mariga,
Chelsea: Cech (Hilario 61), Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, Malouda, Ballack, Mikel, Lampard, Anelka, Drogba, Kalou (Sturridge 78)
Unused Subs: Joe Cole, Alex, Belletti, Bruma, Borini
Referee: Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain)