Luigi Di Biagio said Internazionale FC intend to carry their form into 2003.
Internazionale FC go into the UEFA Champions League winter break determined to carry their impressive form into 2003. That was the message from midfield player Luigi Di Biagio, the unlikely two-goal hero of the Nerazzurri's 3-2 win against Bayer 04 Leverkusen at a freezing San Siro.
"This was our fourth consecutive win in the Champions League so we're in good form and we're delighted with how it's going," said Di Biagio, who scored twice in the first half following his recall to the starting lineup. "I'm even happier because I scored twice which is not usual for me. I just hope we can keep this going when the tournament starts again."
Inter currently sit top of Group A with six points, although that could change depending on the outcome of FC Barcelona's postponed game against Newcastle United FC on Wednesday. Di Biagio struck first with a header from a corner, before volleying in off the crossbar following a sweet passing move involving five players.
Praise for Recoba
The provider on both occasions was Alvaro Recoba, another player who impressed on his recall, behind the front two of Christian Vieri and Hernán Crespo. The Uruguayan's efforts earned praise from his coach, Héctor Cúper, who said: "He was in a fairly free role and he did well. His position was important - Leverkusen are disciplined like all German teams but his movement helped us as it disrupted their organisation."
Cúper had other causes for satisfaction. He had commented before the match on his side's recent improvement in retaining possession yet here, while Leverkusen saw more of the ball - 54 per cent to Inter's 44 - it was Inter who looked the more dangerous when they did break. "When we won the ball back we pushed forward quickly and did not give them time to get back - we did that well," he said.
Leverkusen fight back
Two goals behind at the break, Leverkusen made more of their possession in the second period. Boris Zivkovic pulled a goal back with a half-volley from a corner and had Hans-Jörg Butt not turned a Nicola Beati cross into his own net on 80 minutes, substitute França's injury-time header could have borne real significance. "In the second half they came forward more, that was a problem although it was not down to us relaxing," said Cúper.
'Good second half'
"We played well in the second half," said Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmöller. "We closed them down well and did well in attack against a world-class team, but we didn't get our reward." Despite two defeats from two Group A games, Toppmöller said with some defiance: "It's only the first round of matches and we can still get through. We were not second best against either Barcelona or Inter." As further mitigation, Toppmöller cited Dimitar Berbatov's header against a post in the opening minutes.
Toppmöller claimed not to have seen Butt's own goal but admitted the bumpy San Siro pitch could have played its part. It may not be an own goal for long, however, at least not if Crespo has his way. The Argentinian said: "I'm quite sure that I touched the ball although I cannot say for definite - my feet were frozen at the time." Cold feet perhaps, but there is nothing hesitant about Inter's progress so far.