Argentina striker Diego Milito is set to return to Inter Milan's starting line-up when they host Schalke 04 tomorrow in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final. Sidelined since 6 February with a thigh injury, Milito came on as a second-half substitute in Inter's 3-0 defeat at AC Milan on Saturday.
"I am physically and mentally well," Milito said in today's pre-match press conference. "I am in good condition. I am delighted to have returned and I'm eager to help the team. It has been a difficult season for me due to injuries but I am ready to transform the anger into positive energy and give my contribution to the team."
Milito does not believe Saturday's defeat in the city derby has affected the Nerazzurri camp ahead of Tuesday's match. That setback dropped Inter to third in the standings, five points adrift of Serie A leaders AC Milan with seven games remaining.
"We have put that defeat behind us," Milito said. "We are only thinking about tomorrow's match, more so, after a defeat. We don't have to prove anything to anyone. We've had a starring role in this competition so far and we intend to keep it."
The Italians, who beat Bayern Munich in last season's final in Madrid thanks to two goals from Milito, have already faced German opposition twice this campaign. They beat Werder Bremen 4-0 at home in the group stages before eliminating Bayern Munich in the last-16.
Inter have won three and lost just once at the San Siro in the competition this season. "We are convinced we can progress to the next stage," Milito said. "But Schalke is a strong team and we respect them. You don't arrive to the quarter-finals just like that and it will be a difficult tie. We want to play a great game and win tomorrow."
Inter coach Leonardo professed his confidence in his returning Argentinian hit-man. "Milito underwent a long period of rehabilitation and then had to undergo another physical preparation as if it was pre-season but now I believe he is in good shape and ready to play at a high level," said Leonardo.
Watchful eyes on Raul
He warned his side that they will have to keep a close eye on Schalke striker Raul, however. The former Real Madrid captain has scored three goals in eight Champions League appearances for Schalke this season. "Raul is the symbol of Schalke's good form," Leonardo said. "He is always a very dangerous player."
Schalke sit 11th in the Bundesliga with no hope of qualifying for Europe next season, let alone the Champions League, but the Brazilian has called for fans not to underestimate them because of this.
"Schalke are in the quarter-finals and even if they're not doing great in the league, we all know they will have bundles of enthusiasm and it won't be easy playing them," said Leonardo, who insisted his side are over their derby disappointment.
"A defeat is never due to one sole reason just as I don't think we conceded a goal after 47 seconds due to a tactical problem. I respect everyone's analyses but there are many factors, for example in the first half we had three chances and they had two but we didn't score.
"I don't think it's anything to do with attitude or psychology. We're bitter because we lost but this team has always bounced back from set-backs and I'm convinced we'll do it again this time."
One slightly worry for tomorrow is Leonardo's own personal record in the biggest clashes - he has never won a Champions League game at home in five attempts (four with Milan and one with Inter) - but the Brazilian dismissed any concerns. "Every game is different, these statistics don't count much. I'm not concerned with these types of analyses, they have no bearing on the game," he said.
The hosts will be without injured Walter Samuel and David Suazo as well as defender Lucio, who is suspended.