This year’s Champions League matches have proved to be just as exhilarating as originally promised, but no match has topped the excitement provided by the rally of Internazionale Milan to eliminate Bayern Munich this past Tuesday at the Allianz Arena in Munich. After losing to Bayern 1-0 on a strike by Mario Gomez (90″) at the San Siro in the first leg of the contest, hopes for Inter to defend their Champions League title seemed bleak. Not even history was on Inter’s side as only one time in the history of the Champions League had a team (Ajax of 1996) triumphed from a home deficit to go through to the next round. The demoralized Nerazzurri headed into Tuesday’s contest at the hostile Allianz Arena without the likes of acclaimed striker Diego Milito and managed to collectively fend off several Bayern offensive barrages to prevail 3-2 on a goal by Milito’s substitute, Goran Pandev (88″), as time expired.
The match started out on a positive note for Inter as Pandev weaved through Bayern defenders to thread a pass to Samuel Eto’o (4″) who blasted a shot past goalie Thomas Kraft. Bayern retaliated when Arjen Robben struck the ball from 20 yards out and Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar could not cleanly field the ball. As Cesar struggled to maintain possession of the ball, Mario Gomez (21″) hooked it over Cesar to equalize for Bayern. Misfortune continued to plague Inter as Thomas Müller (31″) broke past Inter defender Lucio to put Bayern up 2-1. Minutes later, Franck Ribery had a one-on-one fast break opportunity against Cesar but the keeper redeemed himself for his earlier error by deflecting the shot and protecting Inter from falling into a 3-1 hole before half. The German battery continued when Gomez grazed a Ribery pass that came within inches of rolling into the goal. As the ball was about to roll into the helpless net, Inter defender Andrea Ranocchia slid to clear the ball slightly before Müller arrived. The ball deflected off the inner part of the goalpost and landed close to midfield. Inter’s following attempt to clear the ball before the end of the first half resulted in Lucio losing the ball within feet of the goal and Müller shooting wide left to miss another chance. At half, Bayern was dominating Inter in every aspect of the game and it seemed as if it were only a matter of time before the Germans moved on to the next round of the Champions League.
Bayern commenced the second half with the same tenacious play as Ribery crossed a pass to Gomez, whose shot was barely deflected by Cesar. However, Wesley Sneijder (63″) would provide the spark that Inter would need as he beamed a ball into the lower-left corner of the goal to level the competition at 2-2. Although the game was now equalized, Inter would need to score another goal in order to propel the Nerazzuri into the next round due to their 1-0 loss in the first leg of the matchup. Should Inter score one more goal, it would possess the tie-breaker since it would have scored more away goals than Bayern. After Sneijder’s goal, the stalwart Bayern defense became porous and pregnable. Inter was now using its own counterattack to create transition opportunities in the same fashion as Bayern had in the previous half. Inter’s recently appointed coach, Leonardo, stated, “It was tough, after losing in the last minute at home, to turn this game around. I always believed, however, and when we equalized at 2-2, I knew everything was possible.”
The resurgent Inter squad desperately tried to penetrate the Bayern defense to score the elusive third goal. A clear path opportunity for Eto’o was called back because of an offsides penalty, Sneijder missed a free kick just outside the box and an Inter shot inside of the box was deflected by Pandev. The unsuccessful attempts willed the vehement Italian squad to muster together one final charge. As Eto’o was streaking to the left corner of the Bayern goal he quickly cut back and passed the ball to Goran Pandev who was wide open inside of the box. Pandev (88″) buried the shot in the top-right corner of the goal to give Inter the lead. Bayern futilely attempted to equalize in the waning moments of the match but to no avail and the Nerazzuri triumphed at last, 3-2.
After defeating Bayern Munich in the finals of the Champion League last year, the extremely skilled Bayern team was demoralized in front of its home crowd. Since winning last year’s championship, Inter has been written off as a specter of its former self through the losses of Mario Balotelli to Manchester City, coach José Mourinho to Real Madrid and injury of top-class striker Diego Milito. The disappointment that Inter has faced over the past year in Serie A play has yet to impact the club’s Champions League play, however. As Inter prepares for the next round, Coach Leonardo feels that the defending champions are much more than an ostensible threat. “We never give up. The European champions are still standing.”