Inter Milan produced a stunning performance to beat holders Barcelona 3-1 in the Champions League semi-final, first leg at the San Siro on Tuesday.
Goals from Wesley Sneijder, Maicon and Diego Milito extinguished Pedro’s opener for Barca and sent the nerazzuri faithful into raptures ahead of next week’s second leg at the Camp Nou.
It was a tactical masterclass from Jose Mourinho as his team wiped out memories of the soccer lessons Barca gave them in the group stages back in September and November.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was magnanimous in defeat and refused to blame the team’s 14-hour coach journey to arrive for the loss.
“This can happen, especially when you’re playing in the semi-final of the Champions League and against Inter Milan,” he said.
“Of course it’s not ideal losing like this but we can still do it. The result is not good, we gave away too many balls ... This wasn’t our best game and Inter don’t make it easy for you to play,” he said. “I know they’re tired, but I’m not a medical expert and I can’t say how much the journey affected them.”
Mourinho showed he wasn’t messing around before kick-off by picking an attacking line-up with three forwards plus playmaker Sneijder in midfield and from the off they demonstrated a willingness to take on the champions.
It was they who created the first clear-cut chance on 18 minutes as Samuel Eto’o curled a left-footer from outside the area that Victor Valdes failed to hold, but Diego Milito fired the rebound straight across the face of goal.
Inter were looking relaxed and confident, but a minute later they fell behind from dreadful defending.
Former Inter left-back Maxwell ran far too easily down the left past three non-challenges, reaching the byline where he pulled the ball back and with Inter’s defenders preoccupied by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the center, Pedro came in off the right flank to drill the ball home from 15 yards.
The hosts kept going about their task, though, and Sneijder slid a lovely pass into Milito in the inside left channel, but again he dragged his shot just past the far post.
Yet on the half hour mark Inter got the equalizer they deserved as Maicon played Eto’o down the right, he pulled the ball back into the middle and Milito took it off Goran Pandev’s foot, but then fed it on to the unmarked Sneijder at the back post for a right-footed finish inside Valdes’s near upright.
In that first half Barca had enjoyed almost 65 percent of the possession, but Inter were showing that their coach’s assertion after the pair met in the group stages that you can play well without the ball, certainly rang true.
Mourinho had also said before kick-off that Barca were as good as they were back then, but that Inter were much improved and their display bore that out.
Inter’s first half had been impressive, but they started the second at a canter with Pandev shedding three players in midfield and playing Milito behind the backline, the Argentine pulling the ball back for Maicon to prod home his second goal in successive games, just three minutes in.
Messi finally woke up and got his first shot off on 53 minutes, but Julio Cesar parried it and the Brazilian stopper had to be alert moments later to block a close-range Sergio Busquets header from a corner, although the Spaniard should have scored.
However, Barca could not handle Inter’s attacking flair and on 61 minutes Eto’o crossed from the right and Sneijder’s poor header bounced up for Milito, arriving at the back post, to nod home.