Internazionale-Barcelona: Clash of the Titans in the San Siro
Champions League semifinals don't get any bigger than this.
Barça and Inter are the only two of the initial favorites left in the tournament. They are coached by two of the most astute and successful coaches in the game. Their squads are overflowing with standout international stars.
Among them will be the reigning world player of the year, and current Champions League scoring leader, Lionel Messi.
In addition to the high-caliber football that will be on display, there are plenty of personal storylines.
The most prominent of these is the offseason swap of Samuel Eto'o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Neither has been as free-scoring for his new club as in previous seasons but they have quieted critics with goals in important moments.
Eto'o is joined by former Barcelona players Motta and Quaresma, as well as Jose Mourinho, who was once an assistant there.
The Milito family will experience this game as another version of their particular "derby." Brothers Diego and Gabriel Milito will face each other in their most important duel yet, after previously doing so in the Argentine and Spanish Leagues. The Barcelona central defender has recovered from a knee injury that kept him sidelined for 18 months and may wind up marking the Inter striker who happens to be his older brother.
Unlike the relatively calm atmosphere surrounding the two games between the sides earlier this season, both teams arrive under heavy pressure.
Barça are just a single point ahead of archrivals Real Madrid in La Liga, while Inter have lost a once impervious lead in Seria A to a resurgent Roma.
Inter will hope to earn a place in the final to end the Nerazzurri fans' 46-year wait for another European triumph. Barcelona are aiming to be the first team to repeat in 20 years, and do it in their archrival's stadium in Madrid.
Barça were clearly the better side in their group stage encounters, but Inter improved as the season wore on and may have steeled itself with the win over heavily-favored Chelsea.
There was some worry that this game would not take place, given that the volcanic gases from an Icelandic volcano have closed airports throughout Europe. Instead of flying, Barcelona turned back the clock and set off for Milan a day early and by bus.
While nothing compared to the 20-hour trip Liverpool are to make later this week, Barça's nine-hour journey has some commentators worried.
"When you are a step away from the final, fatigue does not exist," rebutted Barcelona sporting Director Txiki Begiristain.
He may be right. Guardiola's men have risen to the occasion before. Inter, for their part, finally appear to be capable of living up to expectations on big European nights.
We can only hope that the players do rise to the occasion and deliver a match worthy of this clash of two of the continent's best.
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