In an electrifying game Internacional downed hosts and favourites Sao Paulo 2-1 in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final and are now a step away from becoming continental champions for the first time in their history. All will be revealed in next Wednesday's second leg at the Beira-Rio.
The Porto Alegre outfit's star man on an historic night was two-goal hero Rafael Sobis. Although Edcarlos pulled one back for the defending champions, it was not enough to prevent Sao Paulo falling to a second home defeat in the Libertadores this season after previously having gone 19 years undefeated at the Morumbi Stadium. Last night's win also extends Internacional's unbeaten run against their illustrious opponents to six games, having won four and drawn one of the previous five encounters.
A frenetic opening
The game plans of both sides were obvious from the outset. Sao Paulo boss Muricy Ramalho lined-up his customary 4-4-2 formation with Junior and Souza very active down the left and right flanks respectively. Opposite number Abel Braga opted for a lone striker supported by Rafael Sobis in a withdrawn role, with the task of supplying them falling to the likes of Tinga in midfield and roving left-back Jorge Wagner.
The tone of what would be a hotly contested affair was set as early as the tenth minute when midfielder Josue was red-carded for elbowing Rafael Sobis. Internacional wasted little time in making their numerical advantage count, and Jorge Wagner was soon clean through on goal, only to be denied by Rogerio Ceni.
After reorganising themselves Sao Paulo began to dominate proceedings and engineered a couple of chances of their own, Danilo screwing a shot wide after being played in by Junior, before Fabinho produced a miraculous clearance to deny Leandro.
The Internacional defender undid his good work just minutes later, however, when he was sent off for a foul on Souza. With both sides down to ten men, the Paulistas continued to push forward and it was Souza himself who forced Inter keeper Clemer to demonstrate his agility on the stroke of half-time. The last action of an intense 45 minutes came when Jorge Wagner's free-kick fizzed just wide of the Sao Paulo goal.
The first meaningful action of the second half saw the visitors silence the 71,000 crowd courtesy of a superb individual goal from Rafael Sobis, the front man ending a fine run with an unstoppable right-foot drive from just outside the area in the 53rd minute. Lightning struck twice just eight minutes later when the unmarked Sobis poked home after Fernandao's header had bounced back off the bar.
In an effort to salvage their wounded pride Sao Paulo threw everything into attack. As the action surged from one end to the other, Clemer pulled off a smart save from a Lenilson piledriver, before Sobis spurned a gilt-edged chance to settle the issue when he skied his shot from close range.
The holders were not to be denied, however, and finally pulled one back 15 minutes from time when Edcarlos nodded in Leandro's fine cross. Poor finishing and an inspired Clemer prevented Sao Paulo from levelling things up in the dying stages, allowing Internacional to hold on for an historic win that puts them on the brink of their first Copa Libertadores triumph.
Speaking after the final whistle Rafael Sobis could barely contain his delight: "That was a terrific win for sure - not everyone comes here and wins. I think we did things well, but we've still got a long way to go. It's a shame I missed that chance when we were 2-0 up, but one thing I'm certain of is that we mustn't think this is all over. That would be a terrible mistake."
Inter defender Bolivar concurred with his team-mate: "We don't feel like champions yet and have to respect Sao Paulo, who've already shown what a great side they are. We showed our quality today, and they'll have to go all out for the win in Porto Alegre. We need to use our intelligence in the second leg," he commented.
Striker Fernandao spelled out Inter's recipe for success: "We were focused, determined and aggressive. Now we've got to build ourselves up for another war, for another battle like tonight's. It's very difficult to win at the Morumbi, but the team showed it can rise to the occasion."
"We didn't have much luck out there," bemoaned Sao Paulo striker Ricardo Oliveira. "That said, we're only a goal down and can still turn things around."
Edcarlos, Sao Paulo's goalscorer, echoed his team-mate's sentiment: "We showed what a good unit we are. We played well and had chances, but we couldn't put them away. It's not over and there are still 90 minutes to go."