BARCELONA plunged out of the Champions League last night in a dramatic, frantic clash at the Nou Camp, which saw Inter Milan boss Jose Mourinho celebrate like a man possessed.
And little wonder. His side, 3-1 up after the first leg, had held Barcelona to a single goal despite going down to 10 men after less than half an hour. What a night. What an incredible night.
Inter's Wesley Sneijder said: "Yeah, Jose was screaming at the end, it was an emotional moment. We defended so well with 10 men for so long so a big compliment to the team.
"We were compact, we fought for every metre and gave everything and that's what we said to each other before the game. So we go to Madrid. The manager always has a tactic to destroy the opponent."
Inter's Thiago Motta was right all along. What was it he said in the build-up? "I am not worried about the referee, I am worried about the players who complicate the life of the referee. We're used to seeing Barcelona players diving a lot, so we want to help him."
Sadly, the Brazilian's fears proved founded. After 28 minutes of Barca domination Motta, who spent five years with the Catalan giants, was sent off by fussy Belgian referee Frank de Bleeckere for pushing a hand into the face of Sergio Busquets (see picture above).
True to form, the Barca man went down like a sack of spuds. He'd fall over if a mouse sneezed, that one.
Motta, already booked, was shown a straight red and looked stunned. Rightly. Then he grabbed Busquets by the neck before being dragged away. Rightly. And Barca coach Jose Mourinho, loudly abused by the Catalan hordes on his arrival at the stadium yesterday, applauded the Barca fans, suggesting they might have had something to do with it. Rightly.
On twitter, Derby County's former Wales international Robbie Savage—who knows a thing or two about red cards—raged, "Shocking decision by the ref, come on Inter!" and even Britain's No. 1 tennis player Andy Murray described it as "maybe the worst decision I have seen in sport this year."
Sadly, incidents like that reduced this clash of the titans to a battle of the divers in typical over-fussy European style, with plenty of handbags being thrown. But fortunately, football triumphed over dramatics and Inter got the result they needed to make it to the final.
At halftime, when Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was having a word with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho came up and let his feelings be known—with some gusto. In some parts of the world, we'd call that a pep talk. In East London, it would be labelled a right telling off.
But somehow, Inter, 3-1 up after the first-leg, had got to the break at 0-0 with 10 men. Oh, and they also suffered two yellow cards. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar—who made a great first-half save from Lionel Messi—was cautioned for time-wasting after just 34 minutes. Then Christian Chivu joined him in the book for a tackle on Messi—though he clearly got the ball with his sliding challenge.
Mourinho made his intentions clear as he attempted to end what he called the "obsession" Barca have about reaching the final against Bayern Munich on May 22 at the Bernebeu, home of their arch-rivals, Real Madrid.
But in the BBC commentary box, prophetic former England international Chris Waddle observed: "There's no zip about Barca. Messi looks tired, Xavi hasn't got that bit extra, Ibrahimovic hasn't given anything so far. They've got to go and have a go, get the ball wide, raise the tempo - because they're comfortably going out as it stands."
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