One of the lingering questions on the mind of FC Internazionale Milano coach Roberto Mancini going into the return leg with FC Porto was whether he and the Inter supporters would see the Adriano of recent Serie A form or the free-scoring Adriano the Nerazzurri fans know as 'the Emperor'. The answer was the latter as the Brazilian striker single-handedly toppled holders Porto with a magnificent hat-trick to put the Italian side into the last eight.
The Italian newspapers have been split recently about the slump that hit the 23-year-old Copa América winner as he went three months without finding the net in domestic competition. It became so drastic that Mancini opted not to start him in last month's derby with AC Milan, something that left many wondering whether the forward had lost the edge that had been essential during Inter's early matches this season in Europe.
But where compatriot Ronaldo had failed in his quest for redemption against Juventus FC, seeing red after tangling with Alessio Tacchinardi last week, Adriano was magical. On six minutes he outmuscled Jorge Costa in the penalty area and unleashed a shot that defender Pedro Emanuel could only deflect over goalkeeper Vítor Baía and into the net. He then proceeded to put on an impressive display for the opening quarter of the match as he created mayhem.
As Porto sought to regain their balance and shake off the initial disappointment of letting in an early goal, Adriano lost a bit of his intensity and the visitors began to monopolise possession. First, Benni McCarthy tried to catch Inter goalkeeper Francesco Toldo off guard by deflecting an incoming shot from a team-mate and then Brazilian Diego began to create problems for Inter's back line. However, Inter had the advantage going into half-time as Adriano recharged his batteries for an impressive second-half show.
Clearly looking to avoid a letdown, as had happened in so many Serie A games this season for Inter, Adriano was determined there would be no draws or missed opportunities. He opened the second half by charging forward in a one-on-one with Ricardo Costa only to lose out in the end on an unlucky deflection. Goal number two seemed a sure thing when Juan Sebastián Verón broke free, but the Argentinian's pass across goal to an unmarked Adriano lacked precision.
Adriano was not to be denied a second time however as just after the hour his striking partner Julio Cruz released him with a fine pass on the right side of the penalty area. The forward broke the offside trap and deftly flicked the ball into the near post with his left foot to set the stadium alight.
Then, just as it seemed over, Porto dragged themselves back into the tie. Coach José Couceiro had introduced winger Ricardo Quaresma for an ineffective Cláudio Mejolaro at half-time and the former FC Barcelona talent seemed to be the perfect medicine for Porto's ailing attack as 33-year-old defender Jorge Costa exploited a goalline scramble to poke the visitors back into contention.
But yet again Adriano responded to the call that he had been unable to deliver in the past months. Using his ball control skills and sheer power he fought off defender Nuno Valente inside the box, dribbled right and drove a low shot into the far post past an otherwise capable Vítor Baía, who had no answers on the night. The Emperor was back and he meant business.
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