Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Goran Pandev Is The Hero As Inter Milan Rally

Goran PandevWith Internationals from such world powerhouses as Italy, Germany, Brazil and Holland on display, it is quite a wonder that a man from Macedonia had the final say.

Dormant all season, Goran Pandev finally came out of his shell with a terrific side footed finish, that punched Inter Milan's ticket to the Quarter Finals. Signs of a return to form first appeared two weeks ago, when Pandev's second half introduction inspired a brilliant Inter comeback in a home match against Genoa. However, another inept display away to Brescia the follwing week, presented Nerazurri fans with reason to worry, as the Macedonian missed several, gilt edged chances.

Luckily for Inter, Pandev was back on form within minutes at the Allianz, and it was his poked through ball which set up Eto'o for the opener. As bright as Pandev and Inter's start had been however, they were soon to be pegged back by a Bayern team brilliant on the attack.

First, a second Julio Cesar blunder in as many Champions League games presented Mario Gomez with the chance to score, and the German striker duly obliged, lobbing the ball over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Now on the front foot, Bayern continued to pressure the shaky Inter defense, and it was no surprise to anyone when Thomas Muller gave the German finalists the lead. Latching on to a ball inside the area, Muller showed poise and technique as his superb touch and finish put Bayern in the driving seat.

As the second half kicked off, it looked to many a viewer like Inter's dream of reclaiming the Champions League was set to end at the Round of Sixteen stage, but Wesley Sneijder had other ideas. Following Eto'o's touch back to the edge of the area, Sneijeder hit a stinging drive into Thomas Kraft's bottom corner, giving Inter a much needed lifeline.

With chances being missed at either end, the last ten minutes turned into a tense affair, as Bayern desperately tried to hold on to their one goal, aggregate advantage. However, it had always looked like Inter were capable of creating one, last chance and the Italian champions were fortunate that the chance fell to their in form Macedonian, Goran Pandev. Having cut into the area, Samuel Eto'o (who was brilliant all night) slid a wonderful pass into the path of the onrushing Pandev, who placed a precise yet powerful shot into the top corner. Cue, pandemonium as a jubilant Inter bench piled on to Leonardo, as Pandev, twirling his shirt above his head, ran to celebrate with the travelling Inter fans.

Yes, in theory the game was not over, but it seemed impossible that a shell shocked Bayern could pull themselves up off the ground, and that was how it so proved, with Inter enjoying a relatively comfortable last few minutes.

No doubt Inter Milan's win will be greeted with proclamations of "that's why their champions," but that cliche tells the wrong story. Mourinho's class of 2010 won the Champions League off the back of a solid defense that was difficult to break down, and the goals of a superb Argentinian forward. This year however, Internazionale could not be more different. With Leonardo introducing a new flamboyant attacking style to the club, last year's treble winners have turned from destroyers to creators, and the star of this team is not a man from Argentina, but a man from Cameroon.

While Inter fans will still harbor a hope of becoming the first side to successfully defend the European Cup, supporters of the Nerazurri must realize that their team will have to improve at the back if they are to have any chance of progressing further in the competition. Andrea Ranocchia in particular looked shaky, while Lucio flattered to deceive on his return to Munich. Oh yeah, and need I mention Cesar?

Inter can celebrate tonight, but work will have to be done tomorrow if the Milanese club are to reach the promised land.

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