Defensively strong Inter Milan battled their way into the final of the Champions League on Wednesday by losing only 1-0 away to defending champions Barcelona.
Inter go into the final — in which they will face Bayern Munich in Madrid on May 22 — on a 3-2 aggregate after beating the Catalans 3-1 in San Siro last Tuesday.
It will be Inter’s first final since 1972, they have not won the European crown since 1965.
Defender Gerard Pique scored the only goal just six minutes from time, but Inter managed to avoid a second goal in a frenetic finale.
Inter captain Javier Zanetti said that “We really deserve to be in the final. We have worked very hard indeed in both matches. This is the proof that we are a good team. The important thing is that we are in the final.”
Inter striker Samuel Eto’o, who was the idol of the Barca fans from 2004 to 2009, said that “I thought the game was never going to end, it was interminable.” He added, rather surprisingly, that “Barca are still the best team in the world and we have needed all of our qualities, in two matches, to eliminate them.”
For his part, Barca president Joan Laporta said that ““we just could not score the second goal that would have taken us to the final.” Laporta added that “We now concentrate on winning the league, that is what our people deserve.” Barca are just one point ahead of Real Madrid with four matches left.
Jose Mourinho’s team had a surprisingly comfortable time in the Camp Nou, especially given that midfielder Thiago Motta was sent off after just 28 minutes.
This meant that Inter had to play out more than an hour with ten men, but they did so with calm efficiency and with surprisingly few scares. They were faultless in defence and managed to break up Barca’s rhythm with countless fouls and interruptions.
Barca were even slower, ponderous and predictable than in the first leg. Playmaker Xavi was well controlled, Lionel Messi turned in another dull display — and Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked unfit and out of sorts.
Mourinho had planned to employ the same 4-3-3 formation as in the first leg but striker Goran Pandev pulled a muscle in the pre-match warm-up and Christian Chivu was brought in to make a 5-3-2 line-up.
Inter moved even further back into their defensive shell when Motta was shown a straight red card, for a hand in the face of Sergio Busquets.
Mourinho pulled forwards Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o back to play as effective full-backs, meaning that Barca enjoyed 75 per cent possession — but without taking advantage of it.
All that the hosts had to show for their possession in the second half was two wide shots from winger Pedro and a low drive from Messi which Inter keeper Julio Cesar did well to get down to.
Barca coach Pep Guardiola brought on Maxwell, Bojan and Jeffren but still lacked the craft, speed and imagination to open up a packed defence.
Inter were content to soak up the pressure and shamelessly waste time, waiting for the clock to run down on Barca’s reign as European champions.
Barca’s frustration led to a series of hopeful long shots, none of which troubled Julio Cesar.
There was nothing that the Brazilian could do, however, when Pique scored in the 84th minute. Xavi played the tall defender through, in a marginally offside position. Pique skipped past Ivan Cordoba and calmly made it 1-0. Bojan then had a second goal correctly disallowed for handball by Yaya Toure.