Inter Milan challenge FC Bayern – Rematch of the giants

Internazionale Milano against FC Bayern Munich: The Champions League, the top competition of the European Football Federation, UEFA, gathers speed again in 2011. The encounter between the Italian and the German champions is one of the highlights of the first round of the knock-out stage. The first leg will take place at Guiseppe Meazza Stadium in the Milan district of San Siro on February 23. The second leg at Allianz Arena in the Bavarian capital on March 15 will decide who will progress to the quarter-finals. The encounters are a good opportunity for the Munich club, decorated with 22 German championship titles, to take revenge over Inter, the 18-time Italian champions. Munich’s sport director Christian Nerlinger outlined the aim for the first leg away in an interview with the football magazine “kicker”: “A draw. I see us on a par with Inter Milan”. A win in the second leg would mean Bayern would triumph over Milan this time.

Just watch, don’t touch: Thomas Mueller with the European Champions Cup at the final between FC Bayern and Inter Milan in Madrid in May 2010. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)

Am 22. Mai 2010 trafen die Giganten zuletzt aufeinander, vor 75 000 Zuschauern im Santiago-Bernabeu-Stadion in Madrid. Es war das Endspiel der Champions League, beide Mannschaften hatten zuvor den Landesmeistertitel und den nationalen Pokal gewonnen. Die Mailänder, bei denen bis auf den in der 90. Minute eingewechselten Marco Materazzi kein Italiener mitspielte, stellten an diesem Tag das bessere Team. Mit 2:0 (1:0) gewann Inter mit Trainer Jose Mourinho nach zwei Toren des Argentiniers Diego Milito (35. und 70. Minute). Die Bayern konnten sich anschließend über einen starken Auftritt bei der FIFA Weltmeisterschaft 2010 freuen, die Interisti schieden mit der Squadra Azzurra als Titelverteidiger hingegen blamabel ohne einen Sieg in der Vorrunde aus. Danach lief es für beide Mannschaften in den Meisterschaften ihrer Länder nicht gut. Eine Woche vor dem Hinspiel-Duell liegen der FC Bayern und Inter – praktisch im Gleichschritt – auf Platz drei der Bundesliga und in der Seria A.

Bad luck for Inter Milan: Diego Milito, scorer of both goals for the 2-0 in the final, will miss the first round knock-out match against FC Bayern due to injury. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)

Inter against Munich without some top stars such as Milito

Inter won their last postponed match 2-1 away against AC Florence on Wednesday, February 16. But they were lucky: Florence netted an own goal early, and international Giampaolo Pazzini slotted home the winning goal. However, Fiorentina clearly dominated large parts of the match but missed too many chances against a Milan that showed poor defensive qualities. But Inter, coached by Brazilian Leonardo, endured the pressure from the dominating hosts. Leonardo had succeeded Rafael Benitez, sacked two days before Christmas. The Spaniard, who came from Liverpool FC and replaced Mourinho who had moved to Real Madrid, had won the Italian Super Cup and the FIFA World Club Championship with the Black-Blues, but when Inter were lying a massive 13 points away from championship leaders and local rivals AC Milan just before the winter break, “Rafa” had to go. Since then the difference has been cut to five points (after 25 rounds) due to postponed matches and a weak period suffered by AC Milan. However, Inter are also inconsistent, they lost a vital match 1-0 at Juventus Turin on February 13.

The Bavarians are trailing 13 points behind Borussia Dortmund after the 22nd round in the Bundesliga. But they may yet feel they have higher hopes of succeeding against Inter than in May 2010. Double scorer Milito will miss the first leg because he suffered a hamstring injury during the 5-3 win over AS Rome on February 6. Pazzini, who scored against Florence and also played for Italy against Germany in Dortmund the previous week, cannot play in the Champions League. The striker moved to Inter from Sampdoria Genoa, where he played in the qualification for the Champions League at the start of the season. There is also a question mark against Inter’s head of defence, Lucio, the former Bayern professional, who was also sidelined by a hamstring injury.

It’s off again: A pack of rejoicing FC Bayern Munich players enjoy the 4-0 victory over 1899 Hoffenheim. (Photo: Firo/Augenklick)

Nerlinger: We are the best in Germany

Bayern’s attacking motor has restarted. The team coached by Louis van Gaal performed strongly for the 4-0 victory over Hoffenheim. At last Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben were together again in the starting line-up – the first time since the Champions League final. The previous week the champions showed disappointing form when they lost 3-2 at 1. FC Cologne after taking a 2-0 lead. “The strength Bayern Munich have in their best formation could clearly be seen. When the squad is complete, it is the best in Germany”, said Nerlinger after their home win over Hoffenheim. “Though the championship is more or less decided, it can still be a good season for us”, said the former German international who no longer believes that Dortmund can be ousted from the top position. Besides the Champions League the Bavarians are still in the DFB Cup competition where they will meet FC Schalke 04 at home on March 2.

Raúl is overwhelmed by a special goal: His 1-1 equaliser for Schalke in Valencia was his 71st goal in the European Cup. The Spaniard is now the record holder. (Photo: Firo/Augenklick)

Schalke have already achieved the aim the Bavarians have set themselves in the first round of the knock-out stage of the Champions League. The German national runners-up recorded a 1-1 (0-1) draw in the first leg at FC Valencia on Tuesday, February 15. The first round of the knock-out stage has once again been divided into stages by UEFA. It does not take place within one week, but the first and second legs respectively are held over two successive weeks.  It is not going well in the Bundesliga for the Gelsenkirchen club, but they have put themselves in a strong position with the draw in Valencia, currently third in the Primera Division. A goalless draw in the second leg at home on March 9 would be sufficient to reach the quarter-finals

Schalke thanks record striker Raúl

Schalke had reason to thank Raúl, the Spanish superstar who moved to the Ruhr Region at the beginning of the season after 16 years with Real Madrid. The 33-year-old striker scored the equaliser in front of 40,000 spectators at Mestalla Stadium. “That was a flash of genius”, was how goalkeeper Manuel Neuer praised the fantastic shot of “Senor” Raúl, who placed the ball into the right corner of the net from nine metres. The Spaniard was also celebrated for this goal in his native country. The goal on his return was his 71st in the European Cup, and Raúl is now the sole record holder. The sports newspaper “Superdeporte” from Valencia invented a telling headline for the former Real Madrid player: “You again!” Tottenham Hotspur won the second match of that evening 1-0 at AC Milan. Gennaro Gattuso went berserk. After the match he attacked the complete substitutes’ bench of the Londoners with extreme aggressiveness.

Another super encounter in the same category as Inter vs Bayern took place at Emirates Stadium in London on February 16. In a top-class match Arsenal FC London defeated FC Barcelona 2-1 (0-1). David Villa for “Barca” (26th), Robin van Persie (78th) and Andrei Arshavin (83rd) for the hosts scored the goals. The Ukrainian top team Shakhtor Donezk surprised AS Roma, winning their away match at the Olympic Stadium in Rome 3-2 (3-1) in the second match that evening.