By Patrick Hart
Christian Vieri missed what FC Barcelona coach Radomir Antic described as "the only real opening" as Internazionale FC drew 0-0 with the Group A leaders in the Giuseppe Meazza.
On a night of frustration for Héctor Cúper's side, the Italian international striker was left cursing his luck after a series of missed opportunities. Vieri last registered in this competition when he was a Juventus FC player six seasons ago. The following year he linked up with Antic at Club Atlético de Madrid, where he scored 24 times in as many league games. Antic promptly offloaded him - reputedly concerned about the player's off-field activities - but here Vieri's chances of getting one over on his old boss foundered on a resolute Barcelona rearguard.
The irony for the big centre-forward was that he had put the ball into the net as early as the second minute, only for referee Urs Meier to signal offside. That set the tone for an evening of near things, the most outstanding being a free header that sailed wide early in the second half, and a skewed shot after Frank de Boer had unwittingly headed the ball into his path in the penalty area. "
Vieri had a great chance, the only real opening they had," Antic said. "Inter have the best goalscorer in Italian football, but we knew how to stop him."
'More creative side'
Increasingly, though, it was Barcelona who threatened the breakthrough. "We were the more creative side and had a lot of opportunities," Antic added. Not for nothing had the Catalan team won all eleven of their Champions League matches going into this one. And if the excellent Gabri García had been able to add the finish to his late surge into the home penalty area, that sequence would have been stretched to 12. As it was, they had to be satisfied with the point which, Antic said, put them in "a strong position" in the section - three points clear of Inter, four of Newcastle United FC. "It is a good result and it is up to us where we go from here."
Yet according to Antic's opposite number, Cúper, Barcelona's ascendancy in the closing stages had owed much to the three enforced changes he had had to make. Mohamed Kallon limped off in the first half. In the second he was followed by Stéphane Dalmat, the team's main source of invention despite switching from midfield to up front following the former's withdrawal, and Guly. The substitutions disrupted the home side's rhythm, despite the constant promptings of captain Javier Zanetti. "When you have the problems we had - losing Kallon, Dalmat and Guly, plus having to keep Domenico Morfeo on the pitch despite an injury - it stops you taking the game to the opposition as you would like to."
They came here to do a job and they did it," Cúper added. "The draw is a much better result for them than it is for us, and that justifies the way they played." Before the game, former Blaugrana coach Johan Cruyff had said it would take five years to rebuild Barcelona as a club. On the pitch, the prognosis is looking rather better.
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