Wed, Apr 28, 2010 - Page 20 News List

Mourinho’s Inter face ‘Stop Messi’ mission


Barcelona’s Gerard Pique signs a book at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper in ­Barcelona on Monday.


Jose Mourinho and his Inter players managed to stifle Champions League holders Barcelona last week at the San Siro, but repeating the feat at the Camp Nou today is a different proposition altogether.

Inter have one foot in next month’s final after the 3-1 home win in their semi-final first leg. However, with competition top scorer Lionel Messi, former Inter striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and peerless midfield orchestrator Xavi in the side and close to 100,000 fans roaring them on, Barca are more than capable of reversing the deficit.

“We have to be ambitious and go for as many goals as possible,” Barca defender Gerard Pique said at a news conference on Monday. “Even if we score twice they could snatch one goal and we’ll be out.”

Barca’s hopes of progressing have been boosted by the news that influential Inter playmaker Wesley Sneijder, arguably their player of the season, is doubtful with a thigh problem suffered in Saturday’s 3-1 Serie A win over Atalanta.

Pep Guardiola’s Barca side knocked four goals past both VfB Stuttgart and Arsenal in their last two European home matches, Messi scoring twice against the Germans and all four against Arsenal, and a repeat of their 2-0 success against Inter in the group phase in November would see them through.

History also appears to be on their side.

The last two times Barca lost 3-1 in the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie away from home, against Dynamo Kiev in 1993-1994 and Chelsea in 1999-2000, they turned things around with 4-1 and 5-1 second-leg wins respectively.

Pique said the support of the Barca faithful would be a key factor tonight.

“I hope to see the Camp Nou as I’ve never seen it before and we want the Inter players to hate their jobs for 90 minutes,” the former Manchester United man said.

“I don’t remember the fans being so excited and so confident that we can do it,” he added. “It could be one of the most important matches in Barca’s recent history.”

However, Mourinho has made a habit of besting former clubs and after dispatching Chelsea in the last 16 in February now has a chance to eliminate the club where he served as assistant coach to Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal.

He’ll need to coax another tireless performance from his players today if Inter, winners in 1964 and 1965, are to secure a first European Cup final appearance since 1972.

Their constant harrying and hassling in the first leg stopped Xavi, Messi and their teammates from playing their customary game based on fluid passing and the long periods of possession with which they wear opponents down.

Inter striker Mario Balotelli was dropped from the squad to face Atalanta after arguing with fans and throwing his shirt away after the win.

With Sneijder doubtful and Goran Pandev recovering fitness, the ­19-year-old may have a chance of featuring as Inter again look poised to play three up front.

Left-back Cristian Chivu, who scored his first Inter goal in three years against Atalanta, could come into the side if captain Javier Zanetti switches to midfield to replace Sneijder.

“It’s a historic moment for us. We have to give our all,” Chivu, still forced to wear a protective cap after fracturing his skull earlier this season, told Inter Channel.

Barca central defender and captain Carles Puyol and Inter midfielder Dejan Stankovic are both suspended.

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