MILAN: If Inter Milan beat holders Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final first leg at the San Siro today, they can thank Mother Nature for her helping hand.
The all-conquering Spaniards faced an arduous 1,000km, two-day coach journey just to make it to the game due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland last week.
With flights grounded all over Europe and trains crammed full of travellers trying to get home, Barca decided that taking the long route along the roads and crossing three countries, was the only way to arrive.
But they’re not complaining.
“We’ll have to see what happens with problems surrounding the trip to Milan, but the team is really up for the game – who wouldn’t be? It’s a Champions League semi-final,” said Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will be facing his old club.
Ibrahimovic’s comment came before Barca began their marathon journey that would see them stop over in Cannes in southern France on Sunday night following a 634km trip from Barcelona.
That would just leave them the 351km from Cannes to Milan to do on Monday morning, before training at the San Siro in the evening.
They left at 14.30 local time on Sunday for a game that begins at 20.45, two days later.
“We have to put this behind us and focus on the Champions League semi-final ahead of us,” said midfield maestro Xavi. “We have to go to Milan, play our game, score goals and come home with a win. We are in with a chance of reaching another final and we don’t want to throw that away.”
The two sides have already met in the group stages with the San Siro game finishing in a 0-0 stalemate before Barca put on a masterclass in a 2-0 win at Nou Camp.
There is the added spice of not only Ibrahimovic returning to his old stomping ground but Samuel Eto’o, a scorer in two successful Champions League finals with Barca, playing against his former team-mates.
And he more than anyone else knows how hard it will be to dethrone the champions.
“How do you prepare to play Barcelona? With calmness. We have to try to get our heads into the game before it starts because games like this are almost played more with the head than with the feet,” he said before insisting that he would have no problems celebrating against his former team.
“If I was to score at the San Siro of course I’ll celebrate but maybe if I score in the Nou Camp I won’t.
“We’re nourishing the dream of making history. Barcelona are the best team at the moment but every game has its own story and we want to write our own story against Barcelona.”
While the Catalans won the treble last season – league, Champions League and domestic Cup – and thus matched the achievement of Manchester United in 1999, Inter are dreaming of joining that select band this season.
Already they are through to the Italian Cup final and are second in Serie A, just a point behind AS Roma. But if they are to achieve the treble, one suspects that this will be the biggest hurdle to surpass.
“Are we good enough to beat Barcelona? We hope so but we’re playing the best team in the world in terms of quality and class,” said Nerazzurri captain Javier Zanetti, who has racked up 500 games for the Italians.
“We’re in good shape, we’re playing many games one after another and each one requires a special effort. But when you get a bit tired, you need intelligence. That’s how you overcome these moments.”
It’s not just volcanic ash that is against Barcelona, though, as Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta is out injured while Inter will be at full strength. — AFP