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Inter take heart from Cúper

uefa.com gives its mid-term report on Italian UEFA Cup contenders Internazionale FC.

In the tunnel before every game Internazionale FC coach Héctor Cúper walks up to each of his players and slaps them hard on the chest as a reminder of the heart they must show when donning the famous black-and-blue colours.

New spirit
It is a typical example of the new spirit and solidity that the 46-year-old Argentinian has brought to the club since he replaced Marco Tardelli last summer. Under the guidance of Cúper, who led unfashionable Valencia CF to successive UEFA Champions League finals, Inter have experienced an upsurge in fortunes.

In the hunt for honours
After finishing fifth last year, they have made a strong start to Serie A and were leading the table until AC Chievo Verona's shock 2-1 victory at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium on 15 December. Pushed into third, a point behind Chievo and AS Roma, they remain well placed to compete for their first Scudetto since 1989.

Steady progress
Inter have also made steady, if unspectacular, progress through the early rounds of the UEFA Cup as they bid to win the competition for a fourth time. All this has, in the main, been achieved without both components of their €85m strike force - Christian Vieri and Ronaldo - who were injured for the early part of the season. With the pair now back playing and scoring on a regular basis, Inter fans have much to look forward at the business end of the campaign.

Doubts remain
Yet nagging doubts remain among supporters of the club they feel has underachieved over the past decade, notwithstanding the UEFA Cup successes of 1991, 1994 and 1998. They are quick to point out that although the results look good on paper, the team performances have not been particularly memorable, and they are still waiting for their squad of international stars to truly fulfil its potential.

Caught the eye
Sierra Leone forward Mohamed Kallon and Argentina's Javier Zanetti have really caught the eye this season but others such as Clarence Seedorf and Andrés Guglielminpietro have so far been less impressive.

Kallon on target
Leading scorer Kallon has played an integral part in the club's UEFA Cup run. In the second round, he scored twice against TS Wisla Kraków in the first leg to set up a narrow 2-1 aggregate victory. And the 22-year-old was also on target, along with Stéphane Dalmat, Luigi di Biagio, Nicola Ventola and Guly, in their comfortable 6-0 aggregate first-round win over FC Brasov.
 
Tournament favourites
Cúper's side gave a glimpse of what the fans are hoping for with a marvellous 4-1 second-leg victory over Ipswich Town FC in the third round. Vieri helped himself to a superb hat-trick while Kallon terrorised the English side with his pace as Inter overturned a 1-0 first-leg deficit. The performance confirmed their status as one of the favourites to lift the trophy along with city rivals Milan AC.

Valencia possibility
Inter have been paired with AEK Athens in the fourth round and victory could set up an intriguing quarter-final against Cúper's old club Valencia, provided the Spanish side can make it past Servette FC.