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Inter banish title blues

Published: Tuesday 17 December 2002, 16.49CET assesses the form of Héctor Cúper's UEFA Champions League challengers, Internazionale FC. features

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Published: Tuesday 17 December 2002, 16.49CET

Inter banish title blues assesses the form of Héctor Cúper's UEFA Champions League challengers, Internazionale FC.

With the UEFA Champions League on its winter break, will publish mid-term reports on the 16 remaining sides in the competition every day until 31 December. Today we look at Italy's two-time European champions Internazionale FC, who have impressed at home and abroad this season and are keen to lose the label of nearly men that they have acquired in the last few seasons.

The story so far
Although Inter have been in impressive form in the UEFA Champions League this season, their priority remains Serie A, which they last won in 1989. Héctor Cúper's side lost at S.S. Lazio on the final day of the 2001/02 season, a result which handed the title to Juventus FC. Despite this crushing blow Inter have bounced back well this year and abroad despite two league defeats in quick succession recently, including a 1-0 derby defeat against AC Milan, Inter are still in touch at the top of Serie A. In the Champions League, progress has been smooth, a surprise home defeat to Olympique Lyonnais aside, with Hernán Crespo in prolific form.

Wins against AFC Ajax home and away and a comfortable 3-0 home success over Rosenborg BK left Cúper's men top of Group D in the first group stage, and their run of good form continued as they began the second group stage with a 4-1 win at Newcastle United FC and a 3-2 home triumph against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

Cúper has proven European experience having led RCD Mallorca to the 1998 UEFA Cup Winners' final and guided Valencia CF to two Champions League finals. Despite losing all three finals, his European pedigree and tactical ability are well renowned. The disappointment surrounding the loss of Ronaldo has been allayed by the impressive record of replacement Crespo, who is joined up front by Christian Vieri in a mouthwatering combination. With Alvaro Recoba providing valuable support, Inter's attack has a potent look to it.

Defence is Inter's real strength though, with the summer signing of Fabio Cannavaro reinforcing an already formidable-looking back line. Francesco Toldo is undoubtedly one of the finest goalkeepers in the world and has also been in excellent form this season.

For all his ability, question marks will remain over Cúper until he wins a major trophy while Inter's midfield is workmanlike rather than inspirational. This makes the side very difficult to break down but occasionally predictable.

Additionally, despite their defensive abilities, Inter have conceded a surprising number of goals in Europe, drawing 2-2 with Rosenborg on Matchday One before letting in five goals in two games against Lyon. Once the tournament becomes a knock-out competition, there may also be some doubts about Inter's ability to unlock the very best defences in Europe.

Key man - Hernán Crespo
Although strike partner Christian Vieri is the more prolific of the two in Serie A, Crespo is currently the leading scorer in the Champions League with nine goals from eight games, a run of form which has made the Inter fans forget all about Ronaldo.

Crespo has flourished in the Inter side, and has combined well with Vieri to form a formidable attacking partnership. A proven goalscorer who is always a danger to opposing defences, he is deadly in front of goal and rarely needs more than one chance to score.

Best moment so far
The first five minutes against Newcastle on Matchday Seven. After Domenico Morfeo had given Inter a second-minute lead, Newcastle's Craig Bellamy was sent off, and the Italian side eventually ran out 4-1 winners to start the second group stage with a real bang.

Last updated: 18/12/02 13.24CET

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