Javier Zanetti earned a fifth Serie A title on his 699th appearance, but his 700th game for FC Internazionale Milano could be the most special of all.
The 36-year-old joined Inter in summer 1995 from CA Banfield in his native Argentina. He was among the first two signings under new club president Massimo Moratti, with the other, CA Independiente forward Sebastián Rambert, arriving with a higher profile than the young right-back. However, unlike his compatriot, who never appeared in Serie A, Zanetti proved the real deal and is set to captain Inter in Saturday's UEFA Champions League final against FC Bayern München in Madrid.
Should he play as expected, he will move to within 58 games of Giuseppe Bergomi's record of most competitive appearances for Inter, though for now Zanetti is only focused on lifting Europe's most prestigious club trophy. "
Yes, this is a very important moment because I have been dreaming of this final for a long time, and it will happen right now with this beautiful team," Zanetti told UEFA.com. "I hope we will be in our best form to play this final, and to win it."
Obviously this is not only his personal dream, because Inter have not lifted the trophy since doing so for the second time in 1965. "After waiting for so long, everybody has been dreaming of this final," Zanetti said. "We have managed to get this far by beating strong teams and being made to suffer, but in the end I think we deserve it."
On 3 April, suspension meant Zanetti sat out the 3-0 home win against Bologna FC, forcing him to miss his first league game since 28 October 2006 – 137 consecutive Serie A matches. Indeed, it ended a run of 167 competitive appearances. So when he was one booking from a ban ahead of the semi-final against FC Barcelona, the cruel possibility of missing the showpiece crossed his mind; but not for long.
"I didn't really think about that, because I was so focused on the match," Zanetti revealed. "I told my friends 'I prefer to reach the final and risk missing it', which would be very disappointing, but the objective for all of us was to reach the final. Luckily I wasn't booked."
His experience will be handy at the Santiago Bernabéu, having scored a brilliant goal to help Inter beat S.S. Lazio 3-0 in the UEFA Cup showpiece 12 years ago – their last European final. "It was my first honour, a great memory; in Paris against an Italian team," he recalled. "For us it was an important objective back then, and for me it was very important to score in a final."
This time around, however, he will also have to think about defending, especially considering Arjen Robben's great form. "We are talking about a real winner, who has done very well not only in the Champions League but also in the German championship," Zanetti said. "He's someone who needs to be covered well. I also had to face Messi, which wasn't easy. I hope we can control [Robben] well."
After beating the likes of Chelsea FC, PFC CSKA Moskva and Barcelona en route to the final confidence could not be higher, and Zanetti believes this has much to do with José Mourinho. "He's a great personality and he's able to transmit that personality to the team," he said. "We have improved in many respects, but I think that is the most important."
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