FC Internazionale Milano coach José Mourinho stressed that football is not an individual sport when asked how he might stop Lionel Messi before the UEFA Champions League semi-final against FC Barcelona, but being able to call upon a centre-back like Lucio certainly helps.
The Brazilian defender was a stand-out performer in the 3-1 first-leg victory against the holders, helping keep Barcelona's prolific Argentinian in check and producing a late goal-line clearance to preserve his team's two-goal lead. While Lucio won many of the plaudits, the 31-year-old was keen to point out the "teamwork" and industry which underpinned the Nerazzurri's San Siro success.
"Messi is a player who's very important for Barcelona, a player of the highest quality," Lucio told UEFA.com. "In the first leg we managed to mark him very well − not just Messi, but the whole of Barcelona's attack. We defended well and everyone was helping out, covering for their team-mates, and that was the key thing about our performance. It took teamwork to maintain our defensive line and repel Messi and the Barcelona attack."
Messi was not only shackled by Lucio and Walter Samuel, his central defensive partner, but also endured a difficult evening against the Nerazzurri's holding midfielders. Esteban Cambiasso and Thiago Motta harangued him whenever he dropped deep, while Javier Zanetti prevented him from finding space on the right. It was a collective performance, different to the duel between Lucio and Didier Drogba which was a defining feature of Inter's elimination of Chelsea FC in the first knockout round.
Drobga and Messi, however, are the forwards who are the most troublesome to mark according to Lucio. "They are the most difficult," he said. "When you have to face fast attackers, who have technique and know how to dribble very well, they are definitely the toughest opponents."
That victory against Chelsea is viewed by many as the turning point for Inter, who have won six consecutive UEFA Champions League games going into the return at the Camp Nou. The Serie A titleholders seem to have a completely different mentality in Europe, something which Lucio attributes solely to Mourinho.
Mourinho has definitely transmitted calm and is a great motivation to the players, and that's definitely been crucial," he continued. "People make us believe in our dreams, to trust in our team, and that has been making a difference in everyday life in the competition. That's definitely important, the coach passing his confidence on to the players."
Such new-found belief was tested when Barcelona took an early lead at San Siro through Pedro Rodríguez but Inter maintained their composure and hit back with strikes from Wesley Sneijder, Maicon and Diego Milito. "We had a great attitude because we started by going 1-0 down and then managed to score three goals," said Lucio.
"It was definitely an important victory, which gives us confidence. We know that it's not over yet, there's one more match to play, and we know it will be difficult. We'll go there with the same spirit, the same will, and we definitely have a good chance of reaching the final.
"That reaction was really impressive; everyone on the pitch was focused. We were playing better than Barcelona even when they scored, and we had the calmness to keep on working. Everyone gave their all, and it was crucial psychologically for us to react well to the goal."
A very religious person, Lucio's fighting spirit on the field belies his relaxed and calm demeanour off it. "Clearly on the pitch you need a bit more aggression − it's a war on the pitch − but off it respect and friendship are fundamental," he stressed. "I have a stable family, I have a wife and kids, and that undoubtedly gives me the stability I take on to the pitch.
"It gives me tranquility and a good balance, meaning I'm able to work and train well every day. When you're at work, regardless of whether it's football or if it's something else, you always have to believe in the best and have hope, and that has also made the difference in our team."
A losing finalist with Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 2002, when he equalised in the 2-1 defeat by Real Madrid CF in Glasgow, Lucio is eager for another chance to lift the UEFA Champions League trophy. The Brazilian believes the chemistry within the squad is such that this campaign could be the one that sees Inter end their 45-year wait for the trophy.
"This is an important time, it isn't easy, but our team has been very consistent. Now, more than ever, the last few matches are key for us to achieve our dream, which is the title."
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