Inter Milan clinched their third European title 45 years on from their last in Madrid on Saturday, winning the tactical tussle to see off Bayern Munich 2-0.
For the first time in the history of Europe’s most prestigious club competition, a triumphant team president was following directly in the footsteps of his father. The Moratti family name has now been etched even deeper into Nerazzurri history after Massimo finally realised his dream of joining his dad at the continental summit, Angelo having overseen Inter wins in 1964 and 1965.
The current side, who progressed past much-fancied duo Chelsea and Barcelona on their way to the showpiece, likewise lived up to their name Internazionale, boasting four Argentinians, three Brazilians, a Romanian, a Macedonian, a Dutchman and a Cameroonian – but no Italians – in their starting line-up.
The victory nonetheless owed much to Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho, the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ whose tactical mastery and sheer charisma enabled him to bring the best out of his players. With an unquenchable thirst for honours, Mourinho has already set himself a new target. “I want to become the only coach to win the Champions League with three different clubs,” he declared just a few minutes after the final whistle was blown at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Deprived of suspended wing dynamo Franck Ribery, Bayern were dangerously reliant on Arjen Robben down the right, and though the pacy Dutch international toiled valiantly his efforts were ultimately in vain. The Bundesliga side never found a way of unsettling Inter’s flexible 4-1-4-1 formation, which morphed into a 4-3-3 when in possession to allow two players to apply defensive pressure on the flanks – even if it meant billeting a natural goalscorer like Samuel Eto’o out wide.
The man of the match was undoubtedly Argentinian striker Diego Milito, whose strikes against Siena helped Inter seal a fifth consecutive Serie A title and who also contributed a vital goal against Barcelona. Alone up front, the Enzo Francescoli lookalike was crucially able to get the better of Bayern’s powerful but somewhat sluggish centre-backs Daniel van Buyten and Martin Demichelis.
His first goal emerged almost out of the blue following a move of stunning simplicity. Julio Cesar’s long clearance was met by Milito in the middle and, after nodding towards Wesley Sneijder, he sped forward to receive the Dutchman’s pass and clipped it in first time. It was a moment nigh on insolent in its straightforwardness and a profound blow that immediately raised doubts as to whether Bayern could bounce back.
Milito then proceded to finish the German side off, this time collecting the ball from Eto’o. Finding himself out on the left, he cut inside, bamboozled Van Buyten with a slick turn and buried a clinical effort inside the far post. There was more than a little hint of Lionel Messi in his contribution, and Diego Maradona can count himself lucky to boast both players in his 2010 FIFA World Cup™ squad.
Inter imperious, Bayern unleashed
Inter earned the right to face Bayern in Madrid by ousting the holders in the semi-finals, and they did so via two contrasting displays. The home leg at the San Siro featured an attacking approach that yielded three goals after they had conceded on 19 minutes, but they had rigorous defensive organisation on their minds at the Camp Nou, where Barça monopolised the ball but could do little with it in a match that felt like a changing of the guard.
For their part, Bayern laid down a serious marker to defeat Lyon, winning 1-0 at home before posting an impressive 3-0 victory in France, where Ivica Olic helped himself to a hat-trick. Those results earned them the largest aggregate success in the last four of the UEFA Champions League since Juventus overcame Ajax 6-2 in 1997.
In the last eight, Mourinho’s men swept aside CSKA Moscow courtesy of a pair of 1-0 triumphs, while Arsenal were left chastened by a 6-3 aggregate loss to Barcelona that concluded with a heavy 4-1 defeat in Catalonia. The surprise of the round came at Old Trafford, however, as Manchester United bade farewell to the competition on away goals. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men had seemed to have the tie under control in both legs, but they lost 2-1 in Bavaria after taking a 1-0 lead and then conceded twice in England after rattling up a 3-0 advantage in the opening 41 minutes, Wayne Rooney initially spurring them on with a courageous display.
Lastly, Lyon came out on top following their all-Ligue 1 duel with Bordeaux, handing Laurent Blanc’s men their sole defeat in this year’s tournament to take the first leg 3-1, before limiting the second-leg damage to a 1-0 reverse.
Before that, a number of potential winners had their dreams extinguished in the first knockout round. Chief among them, Real Madrid had visualised securing their tenth European crown on home soil but proved incapable of bouncing back from their 1-0 loss at Lyon as the French outfit drew 1-1 in Spain. Meanwhile, United downed AC Milan 3-2 away and 4-0 at home to celebrate the centenary of Old Trafford in style, and Chelsea were undone by a surprisingly attacking Inter performance at Stamford Bridge, I Nerazzurri following up their 2-1 home success with a 1-0 away win.
Liverpool were the only big name to lose out in the group stage, finally, as they finished a distant third behind Fiorentina and Lyon in their section.
1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 8 goals
2. Ivica Olic (Bayern Munich) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) 7 goals
4. Diego Milito (Inter Milan) 6 goals
1. Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan) 6 assists
2. Andrey Arshavin (Arsenal) 5 assists
3. Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina) 4 assists
Adding the Champions League title to the Serie A crown and Coppa Italia trophy they also snared this season, Inter became the sixth club to claim the treble, after Barcelona (2009), Manchester United (1999), PSV Eindhoven (1988), Ajax (1972) and Celtic (1967).
Cameroonian marksman Eto’o is now the only player in history to have won two Champions League, domestic league and domestic cup trebles with two different clubs, having first achieved the feat with Barcelona last term.
Latin nations level
Inter’s win over Bayern also moved Italy level with Spain in the list of the countries with the most titles either in the Champions League or its predecessor, the European Champion Clubs’ Cup.
1. Spain, 12 wins in 20 finals: Real Madrid (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002), Barcelona (1992, 2006, 2009)
Italy, 12 wins in 26 finals: AC Milan (1963, 1969, 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007), Inter Milan (1964, 1965, 2010), Juventus (1985, 1996)
3. England, 11 wins in 16 finals: Liverpool (1977, 1978, 1981, 1984, 2005), Manchester United (1968, 1999, 2008), Nottingham Forest (1979, 1980), Aston Villa (1982)