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
"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."
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 ...
"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.
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.