By David Rodich
Inter Milan traveled to Enschede, Holland to take on FC Twente, winners of last year’s Dutch league, in the rain soaked De Grolsch Veste Stadium. Most picked Inter, the defending European champions, as clear favorites, but FC Twente came into their first ever Champions League match with a fire in their belly. Even Inter coach Rafael Benitez seemed to sense their hunger. “They play good and intense football and it will be crucial to face them with the right mentality.” Adding, “No one gifts you anything in the Champions League, you have to fight in every game and think one match at a time.”
FC Twente’s fire aside, it was Inter who struck first. In the 13th minute striker Milito drug his defender inside and slashed past him into the box rifling a shot that Twente keeper Mihaylov could only deflect towards a well-positioned Sneijder who coolly finished. However, this did not deter the home team. The underdogs continued to work, playing a direct brand of soccer, which, in the 20th minute, earned them a 20 yard free kick that midfielder Janssen expertly curled past Julio Cesar. This was a stunning goal that will surely find its way onto highlight films. Nine minutes later Janssen almost repeated his feat from a similarly placed spot kick only to have Cesar deny it with an equally impressive flying save. Unfortunately though for the Nerazzuri, the resulting corner skipped off of Milito’s head into the Inter net for an own goal.
From a neutral perspective, the game now became more interesting – the defending champs down 2-1 to an emboldened home team. Inter responded well though, taking hold of the flow of play by controlling the ball more and passing with increased patience. In the 36th minute Cambiasso almost scored if not for the crossbar when he one-timed a pass from Eto that came on the end of an inspiring string of passes. Five minutes later the equalizer did come for Inter when Eto struck a hard low shot as a result of another good combination – this one a one-two passing play between him and Pandev on the top of the box.
The unlikely 2-2 halftime score stuck in the end after an uneventful second half in which FC Twente shelled up as they probably should have after taking the lead. It made sense for the home team to sit back, play defense, and be happy with the tie. On the other hand, Benitez made a dumbfounding late sub bringing on midfielder Muntari for the always dangerous Milito, suggesting that he was happy with the tie as well. It is moments like these that invite questions about the new boss.
Benitez deserves time, as both the Serie A and Champions League are long seasons, but it’s hard to deny from these early performances that he just doesn’t incite the passion of his predecessor. Its also hard to deny that he lacks Mourinho’s tactical prowess, which, given the team’s current mediocrity, is seeming more and more to have been the deciding factor in Inter’s treble winning season last year.