Bayern Munich and Inter Milan met Saturday in Madrid in the Final of the UEFA Champions League. Bayern were looking for their fifth European championship while Inter hoped to win their third overall. Each club, this season’s league and cup winners in their respective countries, were therefore looking to win a unique “treble.”
Meanwhile a mark of potential distinction loomed for each coach. Bayern’s Louis van Gaal and Inter’s Jose Mourinho both sought a second European title with a second club, van Gaal having won previously with Ajax and Mourinho with Porto.
But the individual honors of the day went to Inter’s Argentinean striker Diego Milito, who scored two fine goals to give the Italian squad their first European championship since 1965.
Both sides were quick to show an attacking mindset as the match got underway in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium. And although Bayern Munich were considered the underdogs coming into the match, they soon established the majority of ball possession.
Yet Inter Milan were unwilling to yield the initiative to their German opponents and it was they who created the first opportunity to threaten when Milito was sprung loose at the edge of the box in the 5th minute only to lose his footing. Wesley Sneijder was unable to follow-up on the loose ball and an opportunity was lost.
Five minutes later Bayern’s on-form Dutch international Arjen Robben outpaced his marker Cristian Chivu with a run toward Inter’s byline from where he squared the ball across the six-yard box; Ivica Olic was unable to get a toe on it, however.
A spirited first quarter hour of play from both clubs closed with Inter the beneficiary of dumb luck. Inter defender Maicon, rising to defend a corner kick, got his arm up above the Bayern forwards and clearly made contact with the ball. Had referee Howard Webb seen the transgression then surely a penalty kick to Bayern would have been awarded. No call came, however, despite the protests of the Bayern players.
Bayern continued to control possession throughout the half. Robben looked always dangerous on the right, though his marker, Chivu, did a creditable job of containing the Dutchman.
But Inter’s counterattacks stretched the German defense and in the 35th minute their breakthrough came.
A punt up field from Inter goalie Julio Cesar descended upon Milito, who headed the ball sharply to the feet of his accomplice Wesley Sneijder. Milito wasted no time running into space and the Dutchman threaded the ball through the Bayern defenders. With the ball at his feet Milito sent Bayern ‘keeper Butt the wrong way and calmly scored inside the near post. Bayern 0-1 Inter.
The game was developing into an exercise in frustration for Bayern as they clearly showed competence in getting the ball to the Inter penalty area time and again, yet ultimately failed to breach a disciplined Inter defense.
No such frustration infected the Italians and another counterattack late in the first half opened an opportunity for Inter to double their lead. This time Milito squared the ball across the box to Sneijder who was open. His shot was hit directly at Butt, however, and the half ended with Inter in front by a goal.
The restart saw Bayern pounce immediately and very nearly with lethal effect. But Julio Cesar closed down Muller at the corner of his goal.
Two minutes later Bayern keeper Butt was called on when Milito threatened on the wing and then pushed the ball to Pandev whose shot, not the most wicked effort, nevertheless forced a diving save from Butt.
Bayern continued to work the ball forward yet continued to lack the finishing moment, although Robben was loath to concede this point. He forced a goalmouth scramble off a free kick from the right in the 63rd, and then forced a fine save from Cesar in the 65th.
But it was to be Inter’s night and their coup de grace came in the 69th minute from Milito on the counterattack again.
Samuel Eto’o fed the ball to Milito on the left. The Argentine twisted Bayern defender van Buyten first this way then that before finally shooting far post to double the score. Bayern 0-2 Inter.
The last time Inter Milan won the European Championship was 45 years ago in the heyday of the reviled, defense-oriented form of football perfected by their Argentine coach Helenio Herrera and styled “catenaccio.” Inter won a lot of football games in those days but their dour approach won them few admirers.
In the UEFA Champions League this season Inter have once again shown an effective defensive orientation, but under the guidance of Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho their 2010 variety of catenaccio is a spectacle as entertaining as it is effective.
Entertainment and effectiveness are clearly enhanced, however, when a striker of Diego Milito’s caliber steps on the pitch.