Saturday, May 22, 2010

Inter Wins Champions League

New York Times: Inter Milan Wins Champions League Title.

MADRID — As the stadium loudspeakers announced the lineup for the Champions League final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, the name of José Mourinho, Inter’s Portuguese coach, drew a thunderous shout of approval from the section of fans in Inter’s black and blue.

For those fans, Saturday night was probably their last chance to celebrate the man they call Mou, who crowned another remarkable coaching season by leading Inter to a 2-0 victory at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium.

It was Inter’s first triumph in Europe’s most prestigious club soccer competition since winning consecutive titles in 1964 and 1965, and it came in the kind of match that will almost certainly convince big-spending Real Madrid that Mourinho can help secure championships after this year’s trophyless season.

Even before Inter’s victory, Real Madrid was rumored to want Mourinho on its bench.

Mourinho, who also won the Champions League with Porto in 2004, seemed to agree that Madrid would probably be his next home.

“If you don’t coach Real Madrid then you always have a gap in your career,” he said.

By the final whistle, Mourinho’s tactical choices had certainly paid off.

Despite a big advantage in ball possession, Bayern never managed to pierce Inter’s defensive wall, marshaled by its two South American central defenders, the Brazilian Lúcio and the Argentine Walter Samuel. As Bayern tried to push forward, it left itself exposed to lethal counter-attacks, spearheaded by Inter’s Argentine forward Diego Milito, who scored both goals.

In the late 1990s, Mourinho was an assistant to Bayern Manager Louis Van Gaal at Barcelona. On Saturday, Van Gaal acknowledged the superiority of Mourinho’s more defensive approach.

“I’m very happy for Mourinho that he won with this style of play,” he said. “Attacking is much more difficult than defending — and so many German teams that we face also opt for defending. But Inter does it a bit better.”

Mourinho dismissed as “provocation” the suggestions that Inter managed to win only by playing defensively.

“We have demonstrated our identity throughout this Champions League,” he said. “We deserved this title.”

Milito’s performance was the climax of a season in which he justified his signing last summer from the smaller club Genoa. In recent weeks, Milito scored the decisive goals in Inter’s Italian Cup triumph over Roma and in the final match of the Serie A season, a victory that clinched the league title for Inter.

In the 35th minute Saturday, Inter goalkeeper Júlio César sent a powerful kick upfield, which Milito headed to Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder, Inter’s Dutch playmaker, quickly returned the pass, and Milito sent a perfectly timed chip over Bayern goalkeeper Hans Jörg Butt. On the second goal, in the 70th minute, Milito collected the ball far from the Bayern goal and charged forward with no obvious support in sight. Choosing once more a direct path to goal, he ran at the last defender, Belgium’s Daniel Van Buyten, bamboozled him with a beautiful dribble and put the ball in the net.

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