Inter back on top at last
Monday, May 24, 2010
As the dust settles on Diego Milito's final heroics for 2010 UEFA Champions League winners FC Internazionale Milano, UEFA.com looks back on a season of change in the competition.
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A season of change for the UEFA Champions League culminated with a familiar face celebrating as José Mourinho led FC Internazionale Milano to a 2-0 victory against FC Bayern München at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid.
At the conclusion of his 700th match for Inter, Javier Zanetti lifted the trophy the Nerazzurri craved the most to end their 45-year wait for the European game's greatest prize and add the continental crown to the Italian league and cup double they had already secured. Diego Milito scored in each half to capture Inter's third European Champion Clubs' Cup and the second for Mourinho who, following his 2004 triumph with FC Porto, became just the third coach after Ottmar Hitzfeld and Ernst Happel to win the title with two clubs.
That the showpiece was contested by two domestic champions provided a fitting finale to a season when the qualifying format was altered to ensure greater representation of national title-holders in the competition. With a separate qualifying path and additional places in the group stage awarded to league winners, the 2009/10 edition had a fresh feel to it with 18 involved overall in the 32-team group stage, the most for a decade, and eight sides getting there for the first time.
While some things change, others remain the same. No team had ever successfully defended the title in the UEFA Champions League era and holders FC Barcelona were unable to buck that trend despite dazzling at times en route to the semi-finals. They were never more impressive than in a 4-1 quarter-final second-leg defeat of Arsenal FC, when the inspirational Lionel Messi scored all four goals. For the second season in succession, Messi finished top scorer, though this time his eight goals were not enough to push his team to glory.
Josep Guardiola's side had swept all before them on the Spanish, European and world stages in 2008/09, collecting an unprecedented six trophies. Their triumphal march looked set to continue once they had overcome a slight stutter in the group stage. Stunned 1-0 at home by Russian champions and competition newcomers FK Rubin Kazan, they recovered to beat Inter in the chase for top spot in Group F.
A goalless draw at San Siro and a 2-0 win against the Italian champions at Camp Nou gave Barcelona pole position heading into the knockout phase, but it was Mourinho who would have the last laugh – after first overcoming his former club Chelsea FC in the Round of 16. Former AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti endured a painful return to San Siro in the first leg when Inter ran out 2-1 winners, but worse was to follow at Stamford Bridge, where Mourinho enjoyed the perfect homecoming thanks to Samuel Eto'o's 78th-minute strike which secured a 3-1 aggregate victory.
PFC CSKA Moskva, the first Russian side to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, then became Inter's next victims as a pair of 1-0 wins set up a reunion with Barcelona in the last four. The Nerazzurri had never previously scored against the Catalan club but this time they would have the upper hand following a 3-1 first-leg success at San Siro. Even the sending-off of Thiago Motta 28 minutes into the Camp Nou return was not enough to break Inter's focus, as a rugged rearguard action took them through to the final despite a 1-0 defeat.
Bayern, meanwhile, took time to hit their stride and, after twice losing to FC Girondins de Bordeaux in Group A, needed a dramatic 4-1 victory away to Juventus in their final outing in the section to secure progress. Arjen Robben's stunning strike against ACF Fiorentina took Bayern through the next round on the away-goals rule, and he did it again as they ousted Manchester United FC in identical fashion in the quarter-finals, battling back from 4-2 down on aggregate at Old Trafford with Robben again making the difference via a brilliant volley. For the first time since 2002/03, no English side would reach the last four.
Another Robben goal saw off Olympique Lyonnais in the first leg of their semi-final. The French side were in the last four for the first time after eliminating Ligue 1 rivals Bordeaux in the last eight but their hopes were killed off by Ivica Olić, who ensured Bayern's first final appearance since winning the competition in 2001 with a stunning hat-trick in the return.
So to the Bernabéu, where Madrid fans had hoped to see expensive new recruits Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká lead their side to a record tenth triumph. A first knockout round exit at the hands of Lyon put paid to that and, instead, old boys Robben and Wesley Sneijder, sold by Madrid in the summer to Bayern and Inter respectively, returned hungry to get their hands on the trophy. In the first final to be played on a Saturday it was Sneijder who impressed most, teeing up Milito for the first goal on 35 minutes before the Argentinian international crowned an emotional night with the all-important second 20 minutes from time.