Even before 2010’s historic treble, when they won the Italian league, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League, Inter Milan were already giants of Italian and European football. The two-time winners of the Intercontinental Cup are the only side never to have dropped out of Serie A, and were also the team that popularised the famous catenaccio defensive system. Over the years, legendary coaches like Helenio Herrera and Jose Mourinho have combined with stalwarts such as Giuseppe Meazza and Javier Zanetti to make I Nerazzurri one of the world’s most successful teams.
Inter owe their return to the summit of European football after 45 years to the magic touch of Mourinho. The Portuguese coach was able to take a group of super-talented individuals and mould them into a united, almost unbeatable team that knocked out the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona on the way to the final, before dispensing with a previously unstoppable Bayern Munich side. The key trio of Lucio, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito were all recruited in summer of 2009, and the investment has now been rewarded with qualification for the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010. Mourinho has moved on to Real Madrid, but his shoes have been filled by Rafael Benitez, giving the latter a chance to claim the prize that eluded him in 2005, when his Liverpool side succumbed 1-0 in the final to Brazil’s Sao Paulo.
With five consecutive Italian titles under their belt, Inter go into the competition as favourites. Perhaps most importantly, they have managed to hold on to their best players, including the Dutch star Wesley Sneijder. The FIFA World Cup™ finalist has made a win in Abu Dhabi one of his priorities. “My heart is in Milan,” he said in the run-up to the 2010/11 season. “With Inter last season, I won everything in sight. But there are some great prizes still to be won, like the European Super Cup, the Italian Super Cup and the Club World Cup.”
Facts and figures
Giuseppe Meazza, Giacinto Facchetti, Luis Suarez, Sandro Mazzola, Tarcisio Burgnich, Gabriele Oriali, Alessandro Altobelli, Giuseppe Bergomi, Lothar Matthaus, Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Julio Cesar, Lucio, Maicon, Javier Zanetti, Wesley Sneijder, Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o
From the group stage to the semi-finals, I Nerazzurri met holders Barcelona four times. Barça were the stronger side in their two meetings in Group F, which finished 0-0 in Milan and 2-0 in Barcelona, but the Italian champions were transformed when they met the Catalans in the knockout stages. The Milanese notched up an impressive 3-1 victory in the first leg, then staged a defensive masterclass at the Camp Nou after going down to ten men with over an hour to go. A 1-0 defeat was enough to take them through on aggregate, as well as reminding people that defence is an art, and that Inter are past masters.
The numbers game
37 - Inter’s Argentinian captain, Javier Zanetti, was two months short of his 37th birthday when he won the Champions League. The final against Bayern Munich was his 700th appearance in an Inter shirt, and his 132nd match in a European cup competition. Will he get to lift the FIFA Club World Cup at the age of 37?