When Esteban Cambiasso joined FC Internazionale Milano from Real Madrid CF on a free transfer in 2004, not many people imagined he would become such a key figure in the Nerazzurri side that faces AFC Ajax in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round on Tuesday night.
However, the 25-year-old Argentinian international is widely considered Inter's best signing of recent seasons. "I am very happy and honoured when people say that," Cambiasso told uefa.com. "I have heard many people around Inter say that, and it proves how much my work is appreciated."
Yet, for all his midfield dominance, Cambiasso is not expecting an easy task against Ajax in the second leg, especially after his team had to come from 2-0 down to draw in Amsterdam. "It was a very difficult game in Amsterdam and we are prepared for another difficult match in Milan," he explained. "In the Champions League knockout stage, you always have to play at your best if you want to go through.
"Ajax will not be coming here to wait and see what happens," continued the former CA River Plate and CA Independiente man, who has scored five goals in 28 Serie A games this term. "They will be fully motivated so we will have to go out looking to attack and score. We have to think about ourselves and try to play our best football, without speculating on the fact that a 0-0 draw would be enough for us."
'Nothing to fear'
Cambiasso was impressed by Ajax's first-leg display but is backing Inter to advance to a quarter-final against Villarreal CF of Spain. "Ajax play good football and have several promising young players but we can beat them," he said. "Since joining Inter, I have faced several great sides but I have never focused too much on the opposition. The most important thing is to see the best possible Inter on the pitch. If we play at our best, we have nobody to fear."
Third in Serie A, Inter have been further buoyed by Brazilian striker Adriano's first goal since January, in Saturday's 1-0 victory against UC Sampdoria. "It was not a problem for us when Adriano wasn't scoring because he was doing a terrific job for the team. We can only win if we think as a team," Cambiasso said.
Another boost is the return from injury, in the same fixture, of international team-mate Juan Sebastián Verón. "His recovery is very important for the team and for myself," Cambiasso stressed. "We always feel his presence when he is on the pitch. We have been playing together in midfield for almost two years and we understand each other perfectly."
Cambiasso's old club Madrid failed to reach the last eight, but the midfielder was not particularly surprised. "They faced a very strong side in Arsenal [FC]. It was not good for them to finish second in their group and to have to face a team that finished first. But Madrid were not the only big gun eliminated - Liverpool [FC], Chelsea [FC] and [FC] Bayern [München] all had a chance of going all the way in this competition but are now out."
It is a fate that Inter must avoid on Tuesday at the Giuseppe Meazza. Roberto Mancini's men have to be fully focused on the job in hand, according to their No19, and not look too far ahead. "We have to think about Ajax and how to beat them," he insisted. "I prefer not to talk about Villarreal. It is no good knowing which team we will face if we qualify because we have a tough enough task already."
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