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An immense display of intelligent defending and sheer determination took FC Internazionale Milano into the European Champion Clubs' Cup final for the first time since 1972, ending FC Barcelona's hopes of becoming the first team to defend the UEFA Champions League.
Once again José Mourinho's tactics proved decisive, Inter overcoming the loss of Goran Pandev minutes before kick-off plus the dismissal of former Barcelona midfielder Thiago Motta inside the first half-hour and even a fine 84th-minute goal from Gerard Piqué. That late strike was the only moment when it looked as if Inter, who gave everything to protect their 3-1 first-leg lead, were not going to thwart the reigning European and world champions at every turn as they look to win the trophy for the third time.
The atmosphere had been febrile for an hour before the game, although amid the tension there were warm embraces between Xavi Hernàndez, Samuel Eto'o and Víctor Valdés. There was no let-up in the intensity on the pitch, however, although Inter had been forced into an emergency reshuffle even before Motta's red card. Pandev broke down in the warm-up and Mourinho opted for Cristian Chivu as his replacement.
Inter's counterattacking tactics meant there were often nine white shirts behind the ball while the European champions tested their version of safe-breaking skills. Try as they might it was impossible to unpick the Italian champions, although Pedro Rodríguez darted in front of Motta and Maicon to prod Daniel Alves' cross narrowly wide. Inter's response was instant. An excellent combination between Diego Milito and Wesley Sneijder sucked Seydou Keita, an experimental left-back, towards the danger, so suddenly that Eto'o was alone with the ball in sight of goal. Only the timely arrivals of Gabriel Milito and Pedro spared Barcelona.
Then came five minutes that made Inter's task even harder. Motta had already been booked but his use of an outstretched hand on the face of Sergio Busquets brought him a straight red card. As Inter looked to reorganise yet again, it was another Brazilian who came to their rescue. Yaya Touré released Lionel Messi and the competition's leading scorer bent in a vicious drive which Júlio César finger-tipped round the post.
It needed an immense diving block by Samuel to prevent Zlatan Ibrahimović getting off a shot just before the break, yet the Nerazzurri were impressive. Diego Milito and Sneijder worked tirelessly to win possession and always stretched the home side when they had the ball. The degree to which Inter remained largely untroubled was shown as Guardiola first replaced Ibrahimović with Bojan Krkić, then urged Piqué to push up as an auxiliary centre-forward. Another striker, Jeffrén, followed as time began to ebb away and Inter's relentless blocking and retreating forced the normally slick Barcelona to shoot wastefully from distance.
Searching for inspiration, Messi drifted left and curved in a cross which, at last, eluded Samuel only for Bojan to nudge a free header past the post. Then came the breakthrough. Xavi slipped a trademark pass to Piqué, he turned substitute Ivàn Córdoba and swept into the open net. It proved too little too late for the holders, however, Inter holding out to end their reign and set up a meeting with FC Bayern München on 22 May.
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