Never has an English side travelled to the San Siro and dominated as much as Manchester United did in this highly anticipated Anglo-Italian fixture. As the belittled superstars clad in blue and black stripes retreated to the allure of the Inter dressing room at half-time, Jose Mourinho was left languishing on the touchline sporting a rather dishevelled expression.
It was his team, potential Serie A champions this season, who sensationally succumbed to the sheer force of a Manchester attacking outfit supported by a young midfield outclassing the experienced Cambiasso-Stankovich partnership that has matured excellently in the Italian league this season. This was to be a usual United rout fuelled by attacking prowess so lethal that Nelson Rivas and Zanetti in the Inter defence were powerless to prevent an onslaught. Despite this, no blood was drawn by the Red Devils and Alex Ferguson left the pitch on the final whistle in the knowledge that rarely does a side play at the San Siro and get as many chances as his side did last night…
The first real chance of this encounter saw a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick expertly saved by Julio Cesar on 21 minutes. Julio Cesar continued to showcase his impressive reflexive attributes as two more fine saves denied both Giggs and Ronaldo as the pair’s partnership flourished despite the obvious age-gap.
Five minutes after the Ronaldo free-kick and it was the same man who leaps like a salmon to greet a cross, his header is directed agonisingly wide of the right goalpost- Brazilian international Julio Cesar is left stranded. 39 minutes gone and, bizarrely, Inter have their first chance on goal. A cross is played in on the left by Maicon towards the lime-green boots of Adriano- but the spritely Van der Sar smothers. On 43 minutes the frustrations of the Inter dugout began to show. The usually cool-headed Portugese veteran Luis Figo argues by compatriot Jose Mourinho with the referee, and 37 year old goalkeeper Francesco Toldo is booked amid all of the confusion.
A swift break by Inter’s teenage prodigy Davide Santon on 45 minutes unearths the first signs of weakness in the United defence but his efforts to deliver an accurate ball is subject of an easeful clearance by the retreating United defenders.
As the half-time whistle blows, it seems that anything other than a 1st leg win for the dominating Reds would be a travesty. United boss Alex Ferguson calmly vacates the field and into the tunnel, doing well to conceal the obvious impatience he had with the match and indeed with his players.
The second half beckons and with the opening whistle blow comes a new found Nerazzuri hunger. With Mourinho’s words still ringing in the player’s ears, Inter make a bright start in an attempt to redeem themselves in the eyes of a now calmer Mourinho striding alongside the chalk line of the dugout.
Barely a minute into the second half and Brazilian forward Adriano, in incredible domestic goalscoring form, fluffs a marvellous chance to put Inter ahead. Half an hour later and he vacates the field for ‘Super’ Mario Balotelli.
A cluster of goal-attempts for both sides fail to materialize, notably a surge of pace by Berbatov on the 70th minute- his resulting shot is cushioned by the side netting.
Soon after this chance, the once stubborn Mourinho is unwillingly forced to change his tactics as once again United begin to test Julio Cesar and aggravate the magnificent Italian fans. An Ibrahimovich effort is blocked by Rio Ferdinand. On 75 and 80 minutes respectively, both Ivan Cordoba and Edwin Van der Sar block attempts destined for the back of the net. Will the deadlock be broken?
The last 5 minutes bring with them a sense on nervousness that consumes the ground. The Inter fans expel the attempted Manchester United away chants with a booming rendition of an Italian classic. This classic champions League encounter, however, fails to produce goals despite a series of chances that are somehow diverted away from the net. A Wayne Rooney foul sums up the frustrations of the Red Devils as Inter’s back four remain strong despite incessant pressure inflicted upon them by Rooney and Ronaldo. On the 89 minute, Julio Cesar produces an outstanding save to deny Wayne Rooney- who has come on to replace Ji-Sung Park. Dejan Stankovic fires a long-shot over the bar- Mourinho looks contempt with the scoreline as the game draws to a close.
91 minutes gone and Inter concede a free-kick 20 yards out, Cristiano Ronaldo can dispose of Inter with a single kick. The world’s greatest player has a chance to give Manchester United a crucial away goal but his effort is saved by Julio Cesar, who has carried out his duty in an exemplary fashion tonight. Both managers trudge down the tunnel and both expressions on their faces are worlds apart. Alex Ferguson knows that his side dominated throughout but a cheeky grin on the face of the ‘Special One’ says it all. Mourinho has once again disappointed United, starving them of a deserving three points.
Written by Jack Ling, who also writes at LAP Fanzine.