Georgina Turner
Tuesday April 20th, 2010

Barcelona's quest to become the first team in two decades to repeat as European Champions League winners took a serious blow Tuesday. Pep Guardiola's men lost 3-1 away to Inter Milan in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals.

Although Barcelona took the lead in the 19th minute through Pedro, Inter struck back with three unanswered goals. Dutch international Wesley Sneijder tied the score with a low shot in the 30th minute, before two more goals by Maicon and Diego Milito sealed the victory.

For Barcelona, FIFA player of the year Lionel Messi had a quiet game, while his teammates appeared largely fatigued, possibly as a result of the 450-mile bus trip the team took to reach Italy.

You can rehash the game with the play-by-play analysis below:

By jingo I'm excited about this game. If opposites really do attract, this is going to be a 90-minute lip-smacker. Led by Pep Guardiola, Barca has hip-swivelled its way through the competition like carnival dancers. Jose Mourinho's charges, meanwhile, march neatly to a more measured beat.

The visitors to the San Siro may be favorites, but Inter has a ruthless streak of its own and no feeble tactician in Mourinho. His biggest task will be keeping the preposterously talented Lionel Messi quiet -- which involves, as much as anything, stemming the supply from Xavi. Word is he'll pack the midfield, shifting Maicon forward, but Guardiola is likely to go with 4-3-3 regardless.

I'll be here from 2.30 p.m. ET with live, play-by-play commentary. Do join me to see how it all pans out -- and send me an e-mail, while you're at it:

Much is being made of the intellectual jousting involved in this tie: master strategist and self-styled Special One Mourinho vs. the almost outrageously successful young Barca boss Guardiola. In case anyone was unsure, Mourinho proved definitively his tactical nous by making Chelsea look like Accrington Stanley in the last round; Barcelona destroyed Arsenal in a knee-trembling second leg. Guardiola is wary of attempting to predict the unpredictable, despite having spent the 620-mile coach trip to the San Siro watching videos of Inter's matches this season. The Barca coach believes that "everything will be decided in the Camp Nou." If this is to be a game of chess, please Lord let it be one directed by Michael Bay. After a triple espresso.

Internazionale: Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Walter Samuel, Javier Zanetti, Thiago Motta, Esteban Cambiasso, Goran Pandev, Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto'o. Subs: Paolo Orlandoni, Ivan Cordoba, Dejan Stankovic, Sulley Muntari, Marco Materazzi, Cristian Chivu, Mario Balotelli.

Barcelona: Victor Valdes, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Carlos Puyol, Maxwell, Xavi, Sergi Busquets, Seydou Keita, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi, Pedro. Subs: Jose Pinto, Rafael Marquez, Bojan Krkic, Thierry Henry, Gabriel Milito, Eric Abidal, Yaya Toure.

"With MUFC out of the Champions League, I have to support Messi and his mob," says Jason Timmons. "Lingering resentments about last year's final aside, Barca just play with such an intense elegance that I would not feel good about giving Inter any love at all!" Most of the globe, it seems, is backing Barca, but Augusto Blacker is among the 'good game for the neutral' contingent: "Personally, I'm hoping for a wide-open game that has its bubbly moments -- calico spumeggianti." I don't speak Italian, so you can't sue me if that's offensive, right?

Something to declare:

Half an hour to kickoff, and we're all like five-year-old kids ahead of a birthday party. "I'm getting pumped up about the attacking prowess of Barca coming up against the organizational prowess of Inter," yelps Clayton Worthington. "Needless to say, I am having trouble paying attention in class."

Nearly kickoff: And I can confirm that Sky's studio presenters have cracked the first not-even-volcanic-ash-can-stop-Messi gag.

That Champions League theme tune -- brings a tear to your eye every time, doesn't it? Doesn't it? Nope, me neither. Handshakes under way ...

And we're off: Is now a good time to suggest a game of I, Spy? I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with W...alter Samuel upending Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

2': Ibrahimovic almost gets a toe to an early cross from the left, but as you can tell from the lack of exclamation marks, doesn't.

4': "This game is going to be amazing," quivers Adan Hernandez. "I'm saying Barca takes this 2-1 in a very close game." Both sides have found their way into dangerous areas early on, and now Barca has a corner ...

7': Messi's tripped on the edge of the box, but he started taking a tumble before there was any contact, and even then it was minimal.

10': I'd be lying if I said there was anything of exceptional thrill to report. You sense they both want to grab a goal, but they'll die trying to stop one another doing the same. Eto'o hooked a ball up and over for Milito, but Milito had strayed yards offside.

11': Someone's stood on Dani Alves's hand.

12': On resumption of play, Eto'o's attempts to free himself of Keita's attentions draws a dubious foul and his petulant boot of the ball thereafter earns him yellow card.

14': "I got about 300 people on this floor and 99 percent of them hate me for always putting soccer on TV," says Paul Benedict, mwahaha-ing. "Too bad, it's on again." That's about 300 people who'll know, then, that Inter have spent the past couple of minutes really pressing Barca's back line.

15': I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with P.

17': What a miss! Eto'o forces a stretching save from Valdes with a well-placed if not well-struck shot, and Milito hares towards the rebound ... only to sidefoot it well wide.

19': GOAL! Barcelona 1-0 Inter. Pedro chases onto a Maxwell cutback to the edge of the area and sweeps it home with his left foot! Just as I was tapping away about how much of the ball Inter have had.

22': Lucio misses a header at the far post that ought really to have tested Valdes. "Puke-coloured kits?" wonders Brian, humouring my attempts at I, Spy.

24': Another offside decision against Inter, this time it's Maicon mistiming it. They're winning 5-0 on offsides.

27': Milito has just missed by a cat's whisker -- an elderly cat with thinning hair, at that. Valdes tries to look like he had to covered, but if that had been on target ...

30': GOAL! Inter 1-1 Barcelona. Sneijder equalises! Pandev just about pokes the ball across the penalty area, where he's lurking completely unnoticed, and Sneijder barely raises his boot before unleashing the shot. Milito is spared Mourinho's lip-curl for now.

32': "Pretty awesome game?" asks Casey T. I do spy that, indeed I do. Although that first touch from Alves, released by Xavi (I think), was pretty awful.

35': Julio Cesar goes in bravely as Ibrahimovic puts his foot in. The keeper gets there, though, to silence the chorus of whistles from the Italian supporters.

38': I didn't dare hope the game would be this open. It doesn't quite feel like a classic, by any means, but there are far worse ways to pass 38 minutes.

40': Zanetti and Lucio aren't allowing Messi an inch of space, he's dropping deeper and deeper to shake them off.

43': Alves almost lets Sneijder in with a bungled attempt to see the ball over the goalline, but in the end concedes a corner. Valdes punches clear, where Maicon wins a free-kick from Keita, who really did very little. Sneijder takes, and has to make do with a corner off the wall. Rubbish corner.

45': Barca end the half with the ball, but Inter have restricted them to stroking it across the midfield. Let's hope the second half promises more.

Halftime musings: Barca have shown flickers of what they're capable of, but I think we all expected a bit more from them. Maybe that's our fault for being sucked in by the hype. Maybe it's because they watched Any Given Sunday on the way here. That'd put me off my game.

"Given that Barca had to bus it practically all the way across Europe to get there only yesterday, how would you assess their freshness level overall?" asks Mr Handsome, somewhat underestimating the size of today's European Union. "Also, how would you size the visiting crowd -- are they out in force?" a) I don't think Barca can really claim to have been too badly affected by the bus journey -- though we'll see if they still need excuses come the final whistle. b) I haven't had too many chances to glimpse them, but they're definitely not working up the same decibels as the home support, who've enthusiastically whistled every Barca touch.

As for Inter, they've played it perfectly so far. Twitterers reckoned 1-1 before the game ... but I'm holding out for at least one more goal in the second half.

45': Barca get us underway for the second half; cue another volcanic ash line. It's not clever and it's not funny.

48': GOAL! Inter 2-1 Barcelona. Maicon's scored Inter's second! Milito cuts the ball back across the box, probably hoping that it'd reach Eto'o, but Maicon stumbles onto it first and pokes it into the net. Is it alright to use the phrase 'Game on' in these circumstances?

50': Despite his almost complete absence from the first half, people are still backing Messi to turn the game on its head, if my inbox is anything to go by. Meanwhile Puyol's been booked for blocking Milito, and will miss the second leg.

53': Blimey, he nearly did as well -- Cesar's just got his fists to a swerving strike from Messi.

55': Cesar's been called upon again, Busquets with a header straight at him from a corner from six yards out. Bit of a goalmouth scramble ensues, but Inter emerges with its lead intact.

56': Zanetti steals the ball off Messi's toes to get the loudest cheer of the night.

58': Having seen the replay, I suspect my use of the word 'stumbled' didn't quite convey the skill Maicon showed to control the ball and score Inter's second.

59': Busquets, who looks like he couldn't keep the ball from a poodle, earns a couple of cheap free kicks, but in the end, Ibrahimovic is offside.

61': GOAL! Inter Milan 3-1 Barcelona. Milito's nodded home a third for Inter! Sneijder's header, from Eto'o's dinked cross, is sailing well off target, but Milito steps in from an offside position to knock it beyond Valdes. Be honest, you didn't put money on this scoreline, did you?

64': Andy Gray, commentating for Sky, is trying to pretend he wasn't foaming at the mouth at the thought of what Barca might do here tonight. Abidal floats one in for the team in pink, but Keita can't get on the end of it.

66': Ibrahimovic came off to make way for Abidal, incidentally. Not sure what that says about Guardiola's ambitions for tonight ... or will Messi suddenly come to life now?

69': "What?" stammers Glenn Ryder. "What the hell is happening?" Inter are outplaying Barca - Keita's just been booked for a desperate swipe of his left leg - and Mourinho's still muttering behind his hand in the dugout.

71': Maicon's out on the deck after a clash defending a corner ...

72': It was the full force of Messi's shoulder that put Maicon out, and it looks like his lost a tooth in the process. He's being stretchered towards the tunnel.

73': Chivu comes on to replace Maicon.

75': Milito makes way for Balotelli.

77': Samuel gets his body in the way of a Pedro strike on the spin at the edge of the area. I'm still waiting to tell you Messi's done more than pass it sideways.

79': Messi duly obliges with a free-kick attempt, but it didn't need the save of the century from Cesar.

82': Valdes has just lumped a goalkick almost straight out of play, which sadly sums up Barca's contribution to the second half. Stankovic concedes a free kick and takes a booking that'll keep him out of the second leg.

83': Pique dances across the Inter box playing keepy uppy, but can't create an opportunity to shoot. Then Sneijder has a hack at Alves but the referee says no penalty.

85': Better from Barca, who've barely strung more than a few passes together since halftime. A goal now would be interesting ...

86': Lucio blocks a Pique effort from a tight angle at the near post!

88': Six pink shirts lurk on the edge of the Inter area, but none of them finds space to take a pass from Xavi, who's fuming. It's all Barca now though ...

89': Alves lummies a cross straight out behind the goal, much to the irritation of his teammates, who'd quite like to leave here with another away goal, at least.

90': Balotelli looks shoddy, for my money, but it hardly matters that he's shanked what should have been a weighted cross field pass into the stratosphere.

91': Pedro tries an overhead kick but it's straight at Cesar.

94': The referee blows his whistle on a 3-1 win for Internazionale. Guardiola looks like he's just walked in on his wife and Jose Mourinho, never mind lost a football match to him.

FINAL: Inter 3-1 Barcelona.

Well, there's a turn-up for the books. It shouldn't really be a surprise that Mourinho is capable of orchestrating this kind of result, nor even this kind of performance, but the meekness of Barca's display, having lost their lead, is the real shock here. Messi and Xavi, the crucial cogs in Guardiola's machine, were limited to disappointing cameos, while Barca's back line struggled to cope with the muscle in Inter's attack.

Barcelona does, of course, have an away goal, and scoring two goals at Camp Nou usually comes pretty easily to it. Would Mourinho really take the same game there next week? He's cocky enough, for sure, but he absolutely cannot afford to lose from this position. Mind you, if Valdes mans the sticks like he did tonight, that won't be on the cards. I've just seen another reply of Sneijder's goal passing him by; it's going to give me nightmares tonight.

Thanks for your e-mails today, sorry I didn't get chance to use all of them. Hope you can join me again next week -- and on Thursday, for Liverpool's Europa League encounter with Atletico Madrid.

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