Inter look to fulfil coach's prophecy
Inter Milan will be looking to wrap up progression to the UEFA Champions League second round and fulfil coach Jose Mourinho's prediction when they host Panathinaikos in Group B on Wednesday.
Back in September after the Italian champions were surprisingly held 1-1 at home by Germans Werder Bremen, their Portuguese boss claimed that he was confident his team would still progress to the knock-out stages and before their return date with Bremen in early December.
Back then Inter had four points from two matches, having won impressively 2-0 in Athens, and four points from their two encounters against Cypriot surprise package Anorthosis Famagusta has put the San Siro based outfit on the brink of qualification.
A victory over the Greeks would guarantee Inter top spot in the group, while a point would be enough to make sure their name goes into the hat for the second round draw in February as runners-up at least. Only an unlikely defeat would see them needing to get a result in Bremen in two weeks time in order to progress.
Panathinaikos will be looking to try to snatch a point, otherwise they risk seeing their interest in the competition end before their final home match against Anorthosis. If the Cypriots win at home to Werder and Panathinaikos lose, then Anorthosis will be assured of second spot in the group.
But the task facing the Greeks is a daunting one, particularly given the way Mourinho's team played in a 1-0 home in over Juventus on Saturday. Many have claimed that was Inter's best performance of the season, although one of their other better showings was in Athens two months ago.
Having already seen Inter turn on the style, Panathinaikos will also be worried that there is an extra determination in the blue and black half of Milan to succeed in Europe this season. Mourinho's predecessor Roberto Mancini was dismissed despite guiding the team to three straight scudetto crowns, and many perceived his sacking as due to a failure to achieve similar success in Europe.
Last year Inter crashed out in the second round at the hands of Liverpool, who beat them home and away. But Inter president Massimo Moratti claims there is no difference to their approach to the Champions League this season from any other.
"There is a feeling about the Champions League every year, not in any one in particular," he said. "We always hope to have a team and a squad that is strong enough and has the necessary characteristics to challenge on two fronts and to win both competitions."
Moratti agreed that Saturday's performance was the best of the season, and he is confident that his team can keep improving. For now they will continue to do so without wingers, though. Mourinho usually prefers a three-pronged attack with two wide players and one central striker, but he has not been impressed with the form of his wide men so far this season and they have all found themselves parked on the bench.
Portugal winger Ricardo Quaresma did not even make the bench for Saturday's match while Brazilian Mancini and Nigerian Victor Obinna played no part either. There was a recall for Brazilian striker Adriano, who played well up front alongside Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic and that could be the partnership that starts against the Greeks.
"Adriano did what the team needed of him," said Mourinho after the Juve match. "I think that with (Juventus centre-backs Nicola) Legrottaglie and (Giorgio) Chiellini it was important to have an "animal" like Adriano in the mix. He did good defensive work, did well up front, and he's also quick. Not all strikers do that much."