Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ten Man Inter Humbled By Schalke

Raul GonzalezNever in the history of Champions League play has there been a shock of such magnitude as the one inflicted on reigning champions Inter Milan by German strugglers Schalke 04 earlier tonight. Widely considered the weakest of the eight Champions League quarter finalists, Schalke have sent the defending champions to the brink of elimination, in a display of the type of clinical finishing needed to reach the latter stages of Europe's premier competition.

Amazingly, it was Inter who started the brighter of the two sides with the Italians taking the lead after just thirty-eight seconds. A long pass was played up to Argentine striker Diego Milito, who was beaten to the ball by a terrific clearing header from German number one Manuel Neuer. The header fell to Dejan Stankovic on the half way line who, seeing the goalkeeper off his line, let rip with a ferocious volley from fifty yards, which flew into the back of the Schalke net. Stankovic's technique in volleying the ball was simply breathtaking, and it appeared that Inter were on course for an easy first leg victory.

However, perhaps we should have seen the writing on the wall, when just minutes later Raul was allowed to meet an Uchida cross from the right hand side with a diving header, that flew just wide. Without Lucio and Samuel, Inter looked vulnerable from crosses, a weakness that Schalke would punish to the maximum degree.

On sixteen minutes, Schake were level, a corner whipped in from the left created panic in the penalty area, allowing defender Matip the opportunity to slam home from the edge of the six yard area, presenting the Germans with a precious away goal.

Schalke had responded gallantly to the set back that Stankovic's early goal posed, but Inter still looked dangerous on the attack, with Eto'o and Milito combining to good effect.

The first half was extremely open, so it came as no surprise to anyone when the third goal of the game arrived on thirty-three minutes. A ball into the box was headed across goal by Esteban Cambiasso, where a grateful Diego Milio pounced on his first chance of the game, volleying home from close range. Behind again, Schalke looked set to implode, but again, the Germans fought back.

Much maligned for most of this season, it was Brazilian attacker Edu who leveled for the Bundesliga team. Having been played through down the wing, Edu fired a deflected shot towards goal which was parried by Cesar, but only into the path of the shooter, who had followed up his effort well, and finished with a left footed poke into the empty net. Level again, and with two away goals in the bag, Schalke had set themselves up well for the return leg, and I imagine that at half time manager Ralf Rangnick would have accepted the 2-2 scoreline.

If Inter thought the game was going badly in the first half, then I hate to imagine what they made of the second. The Milanese team started well, and Samuel Eto'o was denied what had looked to be a certain goal by a breathtaking save from in demand goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Neuer has been terrific all season long for Schalke, and has been heavily linked to what will soon be a vacant goalkeeping post at Manchester United.

Having witnessed his striking colleague miss a chance at the other end, Raul took it upon himself to show Samuel Eto'o just how a goal is scored, with the former Madrid man rolling his marker well, before slotting a low finish past Cesar.

Up 3-2, Schalke were in dreamland, but things were about to get even better, and on fifty-six minutes, the Germans doubled their advantage. Breaking down the right, former Atletico midfielder Jurado played a low cross into the area which looked destined to be easily gathered by the onrushing Cesar. However, Andrea Rannochia, in a fit of extreme stupidity, slid in to clear, and in doing so diverted the ball into his own net for 4-2.

Down two goals at home to lowly opposition, things couldn't have really been much worse for Inter. Or so it seemed. Sent off last week against Milan, and already on a yellow card, defender Christian Chivu went through the back of striker Edu, resulting in the Romanian's second sending off in as many games, as well as a severe disadvantage for Inter going into the last twenty-five minutes.

Terrific in the second half, it was fitting that Peruvian Jefferson Farfan played a role in Schalke's final goal of the night. The live wire midfielder barreled through Inter's central defense, only to see his effort propelled away from goal by a combination of the post and Andrea Rannochia. Ivan Cordoba's clearance was collected again by Schalke, and a ball played to Edu on the edge of the box allowed the Brazilian to turn easily before firing an effort past the helpless Julio Cesar.

Shell shocked, the Inter team continued to plug on for the last fifteen minutes, but there was a feeling of depression around the San Siro, which came no closer to palliation after Inter's failure to claw a goal back in the closing stages.

The reigning champions now face an uphill climb if they are to progress to the Champions League semi-finals, with at least four goals needed in Germany. Leonardo will have been encouraged by the number of clear cut chances created by Inter, but it was their failure to convert which eventually cost the third placed Serie A side, and Leonardo will know that a performance of the utmost lethality will be needed next week in Germany.

For Schalke, a 5-2 win at the San Siro represents arguably their greatest ever European achievement. The unfancied German side were supposed to be the whipping boys of the quarter finals, but in the end it was they who were doing the whipping. Schalke's result will only increase the tension around Manchester United's visit to Stamford Bridge tomorrow, as I'm sure that both manager's would fancy their team's chances against Rangnick's blue and white army.

1 comment:

  1. Feel free to comment on your views surrounding this week's Champions League action!