Surviving the first-half dismissal of midfielder Thiago Motta, Inter Milan reached the European Champions League final for the first time in 38 years by eliminating Barcelona in their semfinal matchup. Despite losing 1-0 to a late Gerard Pique-goal Wednesday night at the Nou Camp, Inter progressed 3-2 overall on aggregate score.
The Italians will face German side Bayern Munich in the final on May 22 at the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid and will be bidding to win their third Champions League trophy. Inter has won the competiton twice previously in 1964 and 1965.
You can rehash the game with the play-by-play analysis below:
Jose Mourinho will be looking even more self-satisfied than usual when he arrives at Camp Nou with a 3-1 lead tucked under his arm Wednesday. The crowd will do its best to be as hospitable as Satan's armpit, but Barcelona still has those two goals to make up to go through to this year's Champions League final.
Inter might be without Wesley Sneijder, if he doesn't shake off a thigh injury in time (although he resumed training Tuesday), while Dejan Stankovic is suspended. So too is Carlos Puyol, and Pep Guardiola may also have to make do without Eric Abidal and Andres Iniesta. At least the lethal duo of Xavi and Lionel Messi has survived the week unscathed -- Messi has 18 goals at Camp Nou this season and he's 11/5 with the bookies to score two or more in this match.
I'll be here from 2.30 p.m. ET to keep you up to date with the game, so get your e-mails -- predictions, ponderings and pointless prose -- in to firstname.lastname@example.org before and during the game.
The teams are in, and there's a wee bit of tinkering to report. Gabriel Milito comes in for Puyol in Barca's back line, while Yaya Toure is preferred to Maxwell in an altered midfield. Busquets keeps his place for some reason. Inter look the same as last week, which hopefully means Wesley Sneijder isn't in danger of pulling up in the first five minutes.
Barcelona: Victor Valdes, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Gabriel Milito, Seydou Keita, Xavi, Yaya Toure, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi. Subs: Jose Manuel Pinto, Rafael Marquez, Bojan Krkic, Thierry Henry, Maxwell, Thiago Alcantara, Jeffren Suarez.
Internazionale: Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Walter Samuel, Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso, Thiago Motta, Samuel Eto'o, Wesley Sneijder, Goran Pandev, Deigo Milito. Subs: Francesco Toldo, Ivan Cordoba, Sulley Muntari, McDonald Mariga, Marco Materazzi, Cristian Chivu, Mario Balotelli.
Guardiola and Mourinho have spent the build-up to the game trading assurances of how utterly unflustered they are by this meeting, which will see one of them through to the final against Bayern Munich.
"We want to follow a dream," shrugged Mourinho. "But it's one thing to follow a dream and another to follow an obsession. For Barcelona it's an obsession."
"It's a game of football, not a magic night," Guardiola tossed back, "and we have to be ourselves. Inter doesn't matter, nor their great coach, nor their marvellous players. The only thing that matters is that we are ourselves."
None of us are fooled. This. Is. Huge.
"Look for Barca to come out strong and look for that opening goal as soon as the whistle blows," reckons Augusto Blacker. "If Mourinho's men can withstand what is sure to be a barrage of Barcelona attacks, they may just be able to pull off their most famous victory in 45 years." Now, if everyone could just email every couple of minutes, I'll put my feet up and take in the action.
"I am looking forward to settling in with you and a few beers for today's match," reports Jason Parker, whom I like to imagine opening the bottle with his teeth in an act of gratuitous machismo. "As one of the few non-Inter supporters who truly believed Inter could advance, I think that Inter should handle Barca with as much ease as one can at the Camp Nou. While everyone knows Barca as the greatest team anyone has ever seen, they have never been in this position and I think that they will be pressing to overcome their two-goal deficit and it will lead to an early Inter goal. My final scoreline 1-1." That's his two-cents worth. You?
Hold on a minute! Pandev's become mysteriously "injured," and Chivu will now start in a last-minute formation that is in absolutely no way whatsoever a reaction to Barca's heavier midfield. No no.
Of course we'll hail Mourinho as a genius if it works ....
Kickoff: Barcelona get things going. Gulp.
2': Barca earn a free kick wide on the right, which Messi and Xavi mutter over. In the end Xavi swings it in and Keita can only spin it up off the top of his head. Camp Nou is noisy.
3': Pedro cuts in from the left and lashes a right-footed shot wide of the far post.
6': "Messi has never really shown up in a big game until last year," says Rob Winnick. "Rescuing Barca from their two-goal deficit would be a HUGE appetizer to the final and then to the World Cup ... Can he do it? Yes! Will he do it? Ummm ..." Barca have had almost all of the ball so far, but Messi hasn't cranked it up to lethal just yet.
8': Cambiasso halts Messi just beyond the halfway line, to the violent chagrin of the crowd, who snarl their discontent.
11': Motta's first into the ref's book with a sliding tackle on Dani Alves not far outside the area. This time Messi floats the free kick in, but play is stopped for pushing and shoving -- Ibrahimovic emerges with a huge chunk of the front of his shirt missing but somehow concedes a free kick to Inter.
14': Alves, Xavi and Messi are combining nicely, but so far they've not been able to break Inter, who are defending in numbers, down. It's like a training match of attack vs. defense at the moment.
17': "I have a succulent lunch riding on Barca going through tonight," drools Mr Handsome. "Keeping my fingers crossed!" In the last minute, Inter has made its first and second forays into Barca's half, but they were fairly short-lived. A weak Chivu tester to Valdes's near post is about the sum of it.
19': Keita's just drifted a lovely ball over the Inter back line to Ibrahimovic, who couldn't mask the fact that he controlled it with his arm.
21': Xavi foxtrots through the first bank of defending Inter player then tries to thread a pass through the second when he should just put his laces through it. It can surely only be a matter of time until Barca score.
22': Gah! Alves finds Ibrahimovic, who nods down for Xavi on the penalty spot, but there's no space for him to turn into.
23': Thought that was the goal then - Alves again provides a perfect cross, and Pedro meets it with a first time shot that skims just wide.
25': Sneijder helps to create the first half decent opportunity for Inter, spinning the ball out to Eto'o, who settles for a corner having botched his first touch. The corner comes to nothing, though, and it's as you were.
INTER ARE DOWN TO 10-MEN! Motta puts his hand out to fend off Busquets, catching him in the face. The Barca man, of course, has no option but to go down clutching his chin like he's just been caught by a passing car.
There's a bit of afters as Motta has another go at Busquets as he leaves the field, but all eyes are on Mourinho, who's revelling in his role as pantomime dame.
31': "Good job, Motta," spits Jason Parker. "Can I change my prediction? You can't Sam Allardyce it for 60+ minutes against Barca." This must surely be the first time Mourinho and Allardyce have been in any way compared.
33': Ooooh! Messi curls a ball towards the bottom lefthand corner, and Cesar just gets his gloves on it.
35': Julio Cesar's just been booked for time-wasting. There are still 55 minutes to go, my friend, it's really not going to make that much difference.
37': Busquets' reaction to his brush with Motta's digits has brought back memories of Rivaldo's wonderful corner flag Oscar moment. Is that the best fake injury ever?
39': Still Barca press, still we wait for a goal -- Ibrahimovic's shot is blocked by whatever part of his frame Zanetti can get in front of it. If Inter hold out for the rest of the game, Jose Mourinho will no longer be the only person who wants to erect large statues of himself.
42': "Barca look flawed tonight," says Daniel Fernandez, "in character, not skill." There's a hint that they're slightly lacking in self-belief, but they're faced by 10 Inter players lurking on the edge of the area.
44': With Sneijder down injured, Barca decide their chances might be better against nine, but Chivu slides in to stop Messi. Not sure it was devilish enough to deserve the booking, but Ibrahimovic doesn't let questions of morality hinder his free kick. The smashed shot wiggles like a firework in the air, but is always heading just wide.
46': Delicate stuff from Alves and Messi is unceremoniously ruined by Yaya Toure, who hoofs his cross towards the roof. That's halftime and we're still at 0-0.
Halftime: Get in touch Ordinarily I'd be on Twitter, but despite my best efforts to assure my current internet provider that I am in fact over 18 and therefore able to handle user-generated content, I can't get on there tonight. So send your emails in to me at email@example.com.
"I would like to hear your thoughts regarding how Bayern matches up with Inter (who I anticipate getting through today)," says Joseph Voelkner. "Who do you like in a Bayern v. Inter final?" There's no doubt that Bayern have come through the easier side of the draw, but in their pomp, I like Bayern a lot. Olic, Schweinsteiger and Robben were fantastic to watch last night. But if Mourinho navigates Inter to the final from here, you have to fancy it to be their year.
Second half: Here we go then ... whatever happens in the next 45 minutes, Mourinho's postmatch press conference awaits us like a trolley dash in a sweet shop.
48': Once again Barca take up positions in the final third. Maxwell came on for Milito at half-time, by the way.
51': Fred Adadjo is "rooting all the way for Barcelona," but we're still waiting for the breakthrough. Ibrahimovic flicks a heel up at an Alves cross that just dips behind him, but so far Julio Cesar hasn't had much to do.
53': Ibrahimovic tumbles under pressure from Lucio as a cross comes into the area, but the referee tells him to get up. That really is the most exciting thing to report at the moment. Ooh, here's a corner ...
54': Ah. It comes out to Alves, who opts to shoot from too far out to get Cesar's pulse up.
56': Diego Milito joins the growing list of Inter players to have flung themselves to the ground after feeling the slightest of touches from a Barca player.
57': That's two Barca players who've tried a shot from at least 35 yards in the last three minutes. Surely Guardiola will look to make another change soon, though this is thoroughly unfamiliar territory for him.
59': Oof, Xavi floats a dangerous looking cross in from the right, but Maicon gets a toe to it first. And gets a goal kick for his troubles, too.
62': "If Inter wins, is Mourinho more or less likely to return to EPL?" wonders Philip Salen. "Or to La Liga, to the world's most overpaid team, Real Madrid?" Mourinho's just contrary enough to do neither, but I suspect he'll have one or two phonecalls from English dialling codes this summer. In the meantime, Messi breaks into the area and the entire Camp Nou shouts for a penalty when Chivu intercepts. Nothing doing.
63': Jeffren on for Busquets ... Bojan on for Ibrahimovic.
66': "Another big game for Zlatan," sniggers Jason Parker. "Why did Barca give Inter Eto'o and 30m Euro for him?" Sneijder makes way for Sulley Muntari.
68': Have we really come this far without Barca scoring? Julio Cesar has only had one real save to make.
72': Muntari turns Pique but can't find a ball through to Eto'o. Eventually Maicon wins a corner despite putting it out himself ... and the referee blows for pushing and shoving again. Am I really watching Barca vs. Inter?
75': Barca look to on the verge of locating their funk and getting a goal, but Inter still have everybody back. I half expect to see Mourinho pitch up on the goalline soon.
78': Guardiola looks like a workman about to blame his tools, but his substitutions tonight have been curious at best. Did I mention Ibrahimovic went off for Bojan? If I didn't he did, which puts Barca's front line at a collective height of about two-foot tall.
80': You're an Inter fan who's travelled all the way to Barcelona for this match (not on a bicycle, admittedly); are you ecstatic to be heading to the final, or peeved at having spent the cash on watching a game that's afforded you so few oohs and aahs?
81': Cordoba's on for Milito.
81': HOW DID BOJAN MISS THAT?! Free header at the far post, five yards out with Julio Cesar planted, and Bojan nods it wide. Camp Nou groans.
83':GOAL!Barcelona 1-0 Inter. Gerard Pique has just scored the best goal he'll ever score in his life.
Just as it looked like Barca might try just to pass Inter to death, Xavi slides the ball into Pique, who's being played onside by Muntari. The centre back dummies and cuts back to put the ball into an empty net.
85': Suddenly Camp Nou clears its throat and starts to sing. Can Barca pull it off ...?
87': "I can't imagine how fans are coping," says a shy anonymous emailer, "I'm a neutral and I can barely breath at the moment." These are not the kind of oohs and aahs Inter fans wanted.
89': Alves looked for a penalty having been held by Muntari, but the referee is wise to it. Messi has had a couple of jinks into the area, but he's still running into a wall of white.
90': Corner for Barca ... it's not very good.
Into injury time. We'll have four minutes worth.
GOA- NO! Bojan puts the ball into the back of the net but the referee had already blown for a handball against Yaya Toure!
Terrible decision, by the way -- Toure's hand was on his stomach and about two feet away from the ball when it was struck.
93': They ought to have got their act together sooner, but Barca will be deeply unhappy at having that effort chalked off.
94': Corner to Barca. Again.
FULLTIME: INTERNAZIONALE ARE THROUGH TO THE FINAL!
Barcelona 1-0 Inter.
The final whistle's gone and Jose Mourinho is on the pitch saluting the away crowd, which upsets Valdes no end.
For 80 minutes, this was a disappointing match. Barcelona, at Camp Nou, is just not supposed to look that clueless. Especially against 10 men. It was like excitedly watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time expecting a life-changing classic, only to find out that it's three plotless hours you'll never get back. Still, both had an ending to leave you scratching your head, bewildered, and the match had infinitely more incident.
Inter spent all evening defending, and it did an admirable job; Xavi and Messi struggled to make anything like the impression on the game that we'd hoped for, just as they had at San Siro last week. The debate over the second goal that never was will go on, but still, the holders are out, and over the two legs, it's hard to find too many reasons to argue that it's an unfair result.
Inter versus Bayern isn't the final most would have picked or preferred at the beginning of the season, but it promises to be an interesting one nonetheless. Bayern showed a fluency yesterday that bodes well, though Inter will fancy it can match the Bavarians in midfield and get into their back line. Yet again Jose Mourinho will have to take centre stage, the poor retiring soul. We'll be covering the match live here on May 22nd.