Inter Milan: Serious Champions League Contenders at Last?

Giancarlo RinaldiCorrespondent IMarch 17, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Wesley Sneijder of Inter Milan challenges for the ball with John Mikel Obi of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between Chelsea and Inter Milan at Stamford Bridge on March 16, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Phil Cole/Getty Images

They celebrated as if they had won the trophy itself.

Everyone at Inter Milan knew they had achieved an important result, knocking out one of the most fancied sides in the competition. In the process, they helped overturn their reputation as one of European football's biggest failures.

Make no mistake, the Nerazzurri have a score or two to settle with the Champions League. While they have been the dominant force in Italy for the last few years, they have consistently failed to deliver in continental competition.

Not any more.

Defeating Chelsea carried a symbolism which will not have been lost on Jose Mourinho. He failed to lift Europe's biggest prize while at Stamford Bridge, now he has a chance to produce the goods at the San Siro.

However, the key for Inter will be using the victory over the Blues as a building block, not merely as an end in itself. There are three more games to go, after all, if they hope to win the trophy which has eluded them for more than 40 years.

It was not always pretty to watch, but few Interisti will have been bothered about that. At long last their team stood toe-to-toe with one of the continent's best and did not wilt under the pressure.

Beauty can wait.

Hats off to the Special One who passed his first crunch test of the season with flying colours. His tactics proved perfect at thwarting Chelsea's attacks and threatening on the break.

He showed once again that the Serie A title is Inter's to lose. They are streets ahead of Milan and Roma in terms of power, pace, commitment, and depth of squad.

Now, they are starting to punch their weight in Europe too.

But are they serious Champions League contenders or was this just a flash in the pan? A glance around at what remains of the competition would suggest the former rather than the latter. Inter finally have the tactical nous to go along with their undoubted talent.

They don't have the flamboyance of Barcelona or Arsenal or the choral teamplay of Manchester United, but they do have organisation, heart, class, and character. Only time will tell if that is sufficient to progress.

Much will depend on which side they land in the quarterfinals. Having beaten Chelsea they are entitled to expect a "softer" draw in the last eight. However, nobody will relish meeting the boys in blue and black.

Inter Milan showed this week that they are a resolute, composed, and gifted team. Almost from the outset there was an air of confidence about the side which has been sorely missing from previous European escapades.

The biggest danger is thinking that after Tuesday night the job is done. Club President Massimo Moratti will settle for nothing less than winning the Champions League. Reaching the later stages is good, but it is unlikely to leave him feeling satisfied.

The Nerazzurri's triumph was also an important one for Serie A as a whole. Italian football was in need of a tonic and, although a side packed with foreigners is not to everyone's taste, it at least did the business.

In the process, it took the head-to-head record with the Premiership this season to an impressive—played nine, won six, drew one, lost two—record.

Juventus could complete the job against Fulham on Thursday.

As for Inter, they will face further tests of their European maturity. They picked up a number of suspensions against Chelsea which will weaken their quarterfinal first leg team, but they look like they might have the character to cope with it.

One result does not make your season, of course. Nor does it turn you into a great team overnight.

Nonetheless, Inter deserved their victory over one of England's top teams this week and were entitled to celebrate.

Once the festivities die down, however, they must realise there is more work to do. There is a Champions League out there to be won, and Mourinho's men must use this triumph as the foundation for a serious challenge. 


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