Given their shaky recent form, it has been easy to forget just how good F.C. Internazionale Milano can be when at full strength and firing on all cylinders. And the UEFA Champions League winners certainly showed glimpses of their awesome potential on Wednesday in registering a comfortable 3-0 win over Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma F.C. to book their place in the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010 final.
A cursory glance at the respective squads and the clubs' histories had hinted that it may be a one-sided contest, but dark clouds had gathered above the Italian side on the back of disappointing results both in Serie A and the Champions League. And when you consider that South American champions SC Internacional do Porto Alegre had crashed out of the competition the day before, Internazionale had every reason to be nervous.
As captain Javier Zanetti told FIFA.com: "This is exactly the kind of game where everything could have gone wrong for us if we hadn't prepared for it properly. But we made things easier for ourselves by coming out for the kick-off totally focused on the matter in hand."
With two decades of professional experience to fall back on, the 37-year-old Argentinian knows a thing or two about performing on the global stage. "I certainly think that it must have made us a little nervous subconsciously," said Zanetti on African champs TP Mazembe's shock win over O Colorado. "We didn't want to suffer the same misfortune. We realise that matches are getting tougher all the time, regardless of who the opposition is. The standard of football is levelling out around the world and if a Brazilian club or a Mexican club can crash out, why not a European one?"
Fortunately for I Nerazzurri, they managed to put any doubts to bed with an early goal from Dejan Stankovic and another from their captain before the end of the first half. The third strike, from Diego Milito, was the icing on the cake. "Scoring early definitely gave us a real confidence boost and it meant that we could relax for the rest of the match," Milito said to FIFA.com. "We were two up at the break and after that we managed to play within ourselves while still remaining fully focused."
The reward for the Milanese club’s win at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi was a place in the final, where they will be determined to collect another trophy in a year already featuring victory in Serie A, the Italian Cup, the Italian Super Cup and the Champions League. "We've had a lot of injuries and getting important players back has given us both confidence and fresh legs," said Milito. "We're approaching something like our best and we're only going to get better the more matches we play."
The next match is of course the title decider on Saturday 18 December, and the European champions will be determined not to come unstuck against the Crows and suffer the same fate as Pachuca and Internacional before them. "We can't let our guard down even for a second," said the Argentinian striker. "First we need to get our strength back, then we need to focus and make sure that we play the way we can, never forgetting though that a final is always a totally different type of match."
Milito speaks from experience, his goals having helped the team to victory in the finals of both the Coppa Italia and Champions League this year. "I do tend to do well in finals," he smiled, as the conversation drew to a close. "But even though I'm always desperate to score, this time around I’ll be happy enough with the win."