One single word dominates the countdown to tonight’s Champions League Semi Final second leg between Barcelona and Inter Milan at the Camp Nou – remuntada. It is the Catalan word for “comeback” and it is being repeated ad nauseum by Barca fans across the globe. To miss out on retaining the most prized trophy in their wide-ranging current collection because of “the interpreter” is unthinkable. Mourinho must be sent back to Italy with his tail between his legs.
The Portuguese himself has been indulging in some mind games ahead of the big game, deriding Barca’s “obsession” with their bitter rivals from the Spanish capital, and he makes a fair point. Real Madrid are long gone from the Champions League, banished by a Lyon side who were themselves beaten out of sight last night by Bayern Munich. It will not have escaped the attention of Barca fans that both the French and Germans were dispatched by Guardiola’s side en route to the semi-finals last season, where they duly mounted an unlikely injury-time remuntada against a team assembled by Mourinho.
But this is not about Lyon or Chelsea. This is not about Inter, who stand between Barca and a final against Bayern, who it isn’t about either. Tonight, for Barca, is all about Real Madrid. Los Blancos were sent crashing out of Europe weeks ago and, when Barca beat them by two clear goals in their own backyard recently, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Blaugrana would be thinking rather positively about their rivalry with Real.
And you’d be right – to a certain extent. Barca feel they have proven their superiority, so why can they not shake off those infernal disciples of Franco? Real are clinging onto their coat-tails in the league following Espanyol’s point in the Derby but that is only half the problem. The focus on Real remains in place, exacerbated by a fact that Mourinho has highlighted in as many different fluorescent colours as possible. The Champions League final is at the Bernabeu.
So while blue and red and meets blue and black in Catalonia tonight, the colour white is also a concern. The most extreme, pessimistic, superstitious Barca fans may even have muttered quietly to themselves about the volcano from the land of ice that elongated the team’s travel to Milan for the first leg. A colour-coded suspicion too far, perhaps.
For a team that convinced all but the most biased observers last season on their way to an unprecedented Spanish treble, there are still major questions to be asked of their credentials this time around. Real look unbeatable by all but Barca in La Liga and any further slip-ups, potentially most likely in Seville where they exited the Copa del Rey earlier in the season, could be fatal to their hopes of retaining the title.
While Barca fans daydream of victory in the Bernabeu, their €68million striker must surely be focused firmly on the job. If Mourinho and Moratti triumph at the Camp Nou, they will be vindicated for the decision to swap Ibra for Eto’o in pre-season. Ibrahimovic has scored an El Clasico winner this season and struck twice at the Emirates in the last round of the Champions League but failure tonight would be far more memorable despite a fine goalscoring season.
The massed ranks of Mourinho’s men will tonight stand between Barca and the Bernabeu, an enthralling prospect for any devoted football fan. It promises to be a special one.