Football is all about goals. That’s the cliché anyway, and it’s obviously true. Goals win games. But while this remains true, football is also about the art of defending. Defending is the less glamorous brother of attacking; the more dour, less flash relation. Some fans don’t really appreciate defending, but last night, Inter Milan gave one of the finest displays of the art form as you are ever likely to see. If you didn’t dig it, then maybe football is not your game.
Those addicted to open play and high-scoring games may have found it dull. However, those of us who draw as much pleasure from a well-organized defence as we do from a prolific striker totally loved it.
Going down to 10 men was actually the best thing that could have happened to Inter. It gave them a clear, unwavering game plan to stick to. Defend. Defend at all costs. And then defend again.
With 78% & 74% possession in the 1st and 2nd halves, Barcelona dominated in a manner that we have never seen before at this stage of the tournament. At times it looked like a training exercise of attack v defence.
Against any side this would have been a tough job, against the finest attacking club on earth, it looked to be impossible. However, inspired by Mourinho’s epic tactical nous and self-belief, they constantly denied Barcelona space in the centre, pushing them wide and away from goal, all the while breaking up the game by drawing fouls.
Lucio was imperious in the centre, the man looks like a beast and makes England’s supposed hard man, John Terry, look positively girlish by comparison. Walter Samuel was no less imposing as they harried and intercepted everything Barcelona threw at them. Even when they got a shot at goal, Cesar pulled off at least one world class save.
When Pique scored with six minutes to go, less stern, gritty souls would have panicked and collapsed at the final Barce onslaught, but their will and determination didn’t break. The mental strength they showed was off the scale.
Any England players watching should learn their lesson from this game. Even without possession, discipline, cohesion and organisation can still win the day. Their ‘they will not pass’ attitude was both inspiration and somehow noble.
Purists may bemoan the elimination of a side with Barcelona’s flair but over the two legs, Milan controlled the game better and played to their strengths while preventing their opponents from being able to play their natural expansive game. Milan was never going to out-football the Spanish, so didn’t even try to.
Mourinho emerged from this game with his reputation even further enhanced, if that were possible. He beat the best team in the world and he beat them by pure football intelligence applied perfectly by his players.
For me, it’s one of the most satisfying things in football to see a defence repeatedly close the door on an attack. Not so much poetry in motion as like watching a fine piece of machinery working, all gears and positions and cogs in perfect harmony. It will live long in the memory and that’s pretty much how Mourinho likes it as he continues to build his own astonishing legend.