Friday, 27 February 2009

HT: England 2, Italia 0. But who's running uphill in the second half?

Our man in Italy Kris Voakes brings us the half-time analysis of Italy's first half performance against the England in the UEFA Champions League last-16.

The real preparation for the big one at San Siro started at the pub on Saturday. I asked Ale if there were likely to be people selling tickets in there for the Champions League game over the next few days. "The last two years when the English teams were here, there were guys with bundles of them in here on the Monday night and Tuesday afternoon."

Tickets for Inter-Manchester United sold out in two hours, so those of us not in Milan at that time (I was still in Rome after Milan's 3-0 victory over Lazio) were left looking for other means of entrance. Press tickets were not forthcoming. It was now down to pub-dwellers. As it was for Gerald, the South African guy who approached me on Saturday evening asking about tickets. I told him what Ale had told me and continued watching Bologna v Inter.

Come Tuesday afternoon, I was still ticket-less. And so, sat next to me, was Gerald. None of the fans from Manchester (and London!) that had found their way to the pub had spare tickets… I hadn’t really wanted to go in the away end anyway. Gerald, a United fan who had been at a conference in Barcelona when he decided to fly home via a five-day detour in Milan for the game, was getting frantic. I was simply resigned to watching it on the box. Then in walked Davide.

Davide, it turned out, was a friend of Maurizio the barman, and had a couple of tickets spare. He and his friend Gianni are Inter season ticket holders whose pal at the San Siro had managed to get them complimentary tickets. He was willing to sell his usual seats to the pair of us for (look away Mum) €100 each. Immediately, we said yes.

Davide and Gianni run the Diversa nightclub in northern Milan, and it was to the club that Davide drove us for the formalities. Gianni took our names and got on the phone to their friend at the San Siro. Two minutes later, we were back in the car and in a further 10 we were at the stadium with the tickets in our hands, complete with exchange slips, showing our names and those of the original holders to avoid trouble at the turnstiles.

€100 is a lot to pay to watch a game of football, no matter how big the game, but it was €100 well spent. Middle tier. Half-way line. Perfect view. I was only four seats away from the media section, notoriously amongst the best seats in any stadium. I was even able to catch early team news from some of the English guys working for media companies back home. Whilst I might regret the hole in my wallet later, sitting in that seat ahead of the game, I didn’t even think about the expense.

The game was one of the better 0-0s you’ll see. In the first-half practically every chance went United’s way. Cristiano Ronaldo was being giving all the space he wanted. Inter were struggling down the left. Davide Santon, for the first 20 minutes at least, looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. Ronaldo should have scored with a header. Giggs lost his bearings when through on goal. Julio Cesar was being asked a lot of questions, but answering every one unflinchingly.

The second-half saw Inter dominate possession, but make few clear cuts chances. One of those they did fashion was scuffed wide by Adriano and another was chested along the line by Esteban Cambiasso after the ball had bounced too awkwardly for him to control. The longer the game went on, the happier both sides seem to be with a scoreless 90 minutes.

Inter will claim they have the upper hand having not conceded an away goal, whilst United will point to their near impeccable home record as a sign that the tie is now theirs to lose. With Roma and Juventus both falling to 1-0 away defeats in London, Italy’s hopes of providing another European Cup-winning team were dented by a distinct failure to find the net, but the fat lady is a long way from singing.

Roma’s flare at home may be too much for Arsenal’s injury-ridden squad to handle, whilst Juve’s bloody-mindedness in Turin has done for better teams than Chelsea over the years (they overturned a similar deficit against a star-studded Real Madrid just two European campaigns ago.) And if you had to back any Italian club away from home against any side in the world, Inter would probably be your first choice.

The opening games may well have gone the way of the boys from Blighty, but there’s life in the old dogs yet. March 10th can’t come soon enough.


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