A majestic goalkeeping performance from Francesco Toldo took Internazionale FC through to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals, and a possible meeting with AC Milan, at the expense of Valencia CF.
The home side had 27 shots in a pulsating encounter - 13 on target - but Christian Vieri's early away goal proved decisive even though a quick response from Pablo Aimar and second-half Rubén Baraja header gave Valencia hope. In the end, a 2-1 victory proved fruitless as Inter triumphed on away goals.
The Spanish champions, aiming for a final appearance to match their achievements of 2000 and 2001, deployed Juan Sánchez alongside John Carew up front, and Aimar in support, with David Albelda suspended. Inter brought in Giovanni Pasquale at left-back for the injured Franesco Coco, while Carlos Gamarra came into the defence and Stéphane Dalmat was picked on the left wing by Héctor Cúper, who led Valencia to those two finals.
Inter knew an away goal would leave Valencia needing to score three times - and on the five-minute mark they struck. Hernán Crespo's through-ball eluded Roberto Ayala to fall at the feet of Vieri, the man who scored the only goal at the San Siro, and although his first shot was blocked by Santiago Cañizares, the striker tapped in at the second attempt.
Yet Valencia were not disheartened by this, and responded in the perfect fashion two minutes later. Carew superbly turned Iván Córdoba in the Inter area and fed Aimar, who moved outside Gamarra and slotted the ball past Toldo. That was the cue for Valencia to dominate the rest of the half, and for Toldo to pull off save after superb save.
Soon after the goal Toldo made an excellent diving stop from a powerful Aimar free-kick. Then he blocked Miguel Angulo's shot not long after the same player had sent in a deep cross which somehow eluded Carew. Vieri was forced off on 32 minutes with a knee injury, but that barely affected the game with all the play at the other end. Carew was the next to be denied by Toldo, who in added time at the end of the first half produced three magnificent saves - twice from Vicente Rodríguez and then from Anthony Réveillère.
Baraja on target
There was no respite after the break for Inter, though, and in the fifth minute of the half Baraja had a rasping volley saved by Toldo. Baraja did not have to wait long to make amends, as he dived to head in the resulting Aimar corner. Now just one goal away, Valencia moved forward with increased venom, but Toldo returned to his previous impregnability. First he ran out of goal to clear a Baraja through-ball just ahead of Vicente, then he frustrated Angulo.
Pressure to no avail
The same player was denied 15 minutes from time as Inter defended in numbers, although they did break dangerously soon afterwards only for substitute Alvaro Recoba to have his close-range shot stopped by the legs of Cañizares. But it was the Valencia captain's opposite number who was the hero, as the third home goal never came.