By Paolo Menicucci
FC Basel gave FC Internazionale a real test but were held in Switzerland in the first leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie.
Buoyed by a vibrant home crowd, Swiss champions Basel took the early initiative with Argentinian attacking duo Christian Giménez and Julio Hernán Rossi dictating the flow of the game. Inter defended well though and after they had weathered the early storm, they started to string some passes of their own together and it was the away side who struck first.
With 19 minutes gone, Adriano powered past two Basel defenders and shot past the onrushing goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbühler. The Brazilian had only recently rejoined the squad after the recent death of his father but with Christian Vieri and Obafemi Martins both ruled out with injury, Inter were forced to pair him with Alvaro Recoba up front.
The Swiss side were undaunted though, and struck back six minutes later. Mario Cantaluppi took the Inter defence by surprise by lobbing a free-kick towards the front post where it was met by Rossi who controlled the ball and played it into the danger area with a smart overhead kick. Benjamin Huggel made no mistake, heading in from close range.
Stankovic hits post
Inter responded immediately and Dejan Stankovic was unlucky to see his powerful long-range effort rebound off the woodwork. As the game opened up, Basel could have scored again when Huggel's right-foot volley from the penalty spot flashed narrowly wide.
It was Inter, however, who had the best opportunity to add to the scoreline before the break. With Adriano once again bearing down on goal, Zuberbühler rushed out but could only parry the ball into the path of Zé Maria who hit the bar from close range.
Basel began the second half as they did the first and Francesco Toldo was soon forced into action, first saving a lob from outside the penalty box by Mattias Emilio Delgado and then a shot from Rossi.
Woodwork struck again
With Serie A not starting for another month, and the Swiss season already approaching its second month, Inter tired towards the end but Basel failed to take advantage, with Huggel coming closest on 78 minutes when the Italians were saved by the post after the 27-year-old unleashed a low drive from the edge of the area.
Inter nearly grabbed a winner with the game entering the last ten minutes when Zé Maria curled a free-kick passed Zuberbühler before Basel captain Murat Yakin came to the rescue with a goal-line clearance to keep the scores level for the return in Milan on 24 August.
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