Reuters

Soccer-Grand occasion as Inter reclaim European crown at last

Sun, 23 May 11:17:00 2010

Inter Milan's 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final will be remembered more for Diego Milito's two brilliant goals and the sub-plots and intrigues surrounding the game rather than the football.

Staged in Real Madrid's awe inspiring Santiago Bernabeu stadium, UEFA president Michel Platini's idea of switching the final from a Wednesday to a Saturday night lent even more drama to the event than usual. The noisy, rollicking input from both sets of fans created an unforgettable atmosphere.

A moment of shared respect summed up the essential bonhomie of the occasion and it came when Milito, waving at the crowd in celebration, suddenly realised he was waving at the Bayern fans.

But instead of booing him the German supporters warmly applauded him back.

Inter defender Lucio, who used to play for Bayern, spent much of the post-match celebrations talking to his former team mates after crying tears of joy.

Inter coach Jose Mourinho hugged Bayern winger Arjen Robben -- they were together for three years at Chelsea -- during a short break of play in the first half.

Mourinho and Bayern manager Louis Van Gaal, whose friendship goes back to their days together at Barcelona, even hugged before the end of the game with Inter's victory all but assured.

At times it was more of a love-in than a win-at-all-costs final, but there was hardly a malicious tackle or a cross word and the game more than lived up to expectations.

While never a classic, it was still totally enthralling. Mourinho said his men "followed my instructions perfectly" and eventually finished as convincing winners.

THIRD TIME

The bare facts show that Inter have become European champions for the third time, after a wait of 45 years since their second title in 1965, and Mourinho became only the third man to become European champion with two different clubs following his success with Porto in 2004.

Inter have also become the first Italian side to win the treble after winning the Serie A and Cup double earlier this month, and Milito himself has reached heights he could barely have imagined when he joined Inter at the start of the season.

The two goals he scored to beat Bayern capped an astonishing run of personal success after scoring the only goal against AS Roma when Inter won the Italian Cup on May 5, and the only goal last Sunday against Siena when they clinched the Serie A title.

The 30-year-old Argentine now heads to South Africa for his first World Cup, while Mourinho looks all set to leave Milan.

Conspicuous by his absence from Inter's welcoming party back in Milan, he now seems certain to take a permanent place in the Bernabeu dug-out as Real Madrid's new manager.

Milito could follow him to Spain as perhaps could his inspirational Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder.

While Mourinho won his personal duel with Van Gaal, Sneijder ultimately had more impact than his friend and Dutch international team mate Robben, who worked tirelessly down Bayern's right but could not find a goal for either himself or his misfiring strike pair Ivica Olic or Thomas Mueller.

LONG CLEARANCE

Milito made his presence felt. He got the breakthrough after 35 minutes when he chose his spot perfectly after a long clearance upfield by goalkeeper Julio Cesar. He made the game safe 20 minutes from time by rounding Daniel Van Buyten, switching feet and giving Hans-Jorg Butt no chance with a curling inswinger. Inter's fans and their players celebrated their long-awaited success for almost an hour after the game ended, while Mourinho only briefly joined the party raising and lowering the European Cup in one swift movement -- leaving centre-stage to his players.

The only other men to win the European Cup with two different clubs were Ernst Happel (Feyenoord in 1970 and Hamburg SV in 1983) and Ottmar Hitzfeld (Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern in 2001).

With time on his side, there seems little doubt that Mourinho has more Champions League victories in him -- wherever he may end up in the future.

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

 

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