FC Barcelona stand in their way in the semi-finals but that cannot detract from Wesley Sneijder's belief that FC Internazionale Milano are so close to winning the European title.
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He may have played there for two seasons with Real Madrid CF but Wesley Sneijder hopes his most important game at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium will come in an FC Internazionale Milano shirt – the UEFA Champions League final on 22 May.
The attacking midfielder began plotting a dream return to the Spanish capital the moment he left Real Madrid for Internazionale late last August. "Yes, it would be nice to play there and win the cup – a great moment," said the Dutch international, who made the move to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza after Madrid had signed Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká.
"It became my dream once I went to Inter, as I knew the final was at the Bernabéu. I was dreaming about reaching the final and lifting the cup. We're just two games away now, so let's go for it. Nothing is impossible."
The two matches he refers to, however, are against Europe's most-feared team and its most-feared player. Inter welcome FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi for their semi-final first leg on Tuesday before travelling to face the continental titleholders on 28 April. "Well, yes, I have heard about Messi," the 25-year-old joked, before adding: "I think at the moment he's the best player in the world, but of course there is a way to stop him. Why not? We will find out next week."
While Inter must work out how to halt Messi, Barcelona will do well to watch Sneijder. The former AFC Ajax prodigy has been decisive with four assists and two goals in the Nerazzurri's run to a first semi-final since 2003. "I have realised that I am one of the big players in the team, and I hope to be that until the end of the season – which starts now," he said.
Inter coach José Mourinho never appeared to doubt the set-piece specialist's value to the defending Italian champions. After all, he fielded Sneijder in his starting lineup just 24 hours after signing him, in a 4-0 derby win against AC Milan. That compliment is returned when Sneijder pinpoints his coach as key to beating Barcelona. "I think he's a fantastic trainer," he said. "He knows exactly how to manage both on an individual level and for the whole team. That's why I'm not scared about the semi-final. He will give us information nobody else can give us. That is the power of Mourinho."
The Utrecht-born player also identifies the round of 16 victory over Mourinho's former side Chelsea FC – with wins at both San Siro and Stamford Bridge – as a vital confidence-building exercise. "It gave a boost to the team – if you beat one of the top clubs in Europe, it definitely gives you a lift." Mourinho himself expanded on the theme after the subsequent quarter-final success over PFC CSKA Moskva – when Sneijder's solitary goal in Moscow completed a 2-0 aggregate triumph – hailing Inter's new-found belief and maturity.
Now they pursue a sixth straight UEFA Champions League win against a Barcelona outfit that took four points off them in the group stage. The No10 is only looking forward though. Having finally jumped the quarter-final hurdle, where he was unseated with Ajax against Milan in 2003 – "0-0 at home and then one minute from the semis at 2-2 in Italy [before a late Jon Dahl Tomasson winner]" – his focus is fixed on the final straight.
Recognising that he was "not even born" when Inter lifted the second of their two European Champion Clubs' Cups in 1965, he said: "A club like Inter are very hungry to win the Champions League, and that's good because Inter are a big club. I don't know if we're going to win it this year, but we are getting better and better and we're going to win it in the future. We are so close now."