Liverpool have been drawn against Inter Milan in the first knockout round of the Champions League.
The Reds knew they would face either Italian or Spanish opposition before the draw was made, and it was Arsenal who drew Inter’s groundsharing rivals AC Milan.
The last time Liverpool met Inter was in August 1998 at Anfield in a friendly. Liverpool won 2-0 that day, goals coming from Paul Ince and Steve Harkness. It was the final of the Coppa Pirelli mini-tournament, with Paul Ince playing against his former club.
The only other meetings between the two sides came back in 1965 in the Champions League, which still called the European Cup in those days. Liverpool won the home leg 3-1, but went down 3-0 in the return at the San Siro in controversial circumstances. With the Liverpool players settling down for some sleep in their hotel on the eve of the game, a nearby monastery had its bell ringing throughout the night, which was the only thing drowning out the noise of the Italian supporters who were chanting all night to disrupt the players. Liverpool were fairly new to European competition at this stage in their history, and then fell foul of some notoriously bad refereeing in the stadium itself.
This was during a period where Italian football was going through one its many stages of corruptness, and although it might sound like bitterness and sour grapes, many supporters from the time remember how it seemed that the referee had been paid for his services by someone other than UEFA. The first Inter goal was scored directly from a free kick – but should have been disallowed as it was scored from an indirect free-kick. Their second came after the Inter forward kicked the ball pretty much out of keeper Tommy Lawrence’s hands, something that in any other game – particularly in Italy – would be penalised without question.
Liverpool’s Chief Executive Rick Parry was at the draw today and for once was speaking in a direct interview situation and not defending some negative story being spread about Liverpool FC or its owners. He said of this draw: “It’s a big one, but it was always going to be a big one whoever we had drawn. It’s a very long time since we played them so it’ll be a new one for us. They are a very good team, they did very well last year and they are doing well in the Italian league again this season, so it’ll be tough but there are no easy ones at this stage.”
Repeating himself a little, he said: “They are a very good team, but every team at this stage is a good team, and when you look at who we could have drawn none of them would have been an easy game, so we’ll take whoever we get.”
Parry deflected a question about whether Rafa Benitez, reportedly under pressure of the sack, was under more pressure for this tie than normal, especially in light of recent defeats: “Results recently don’t make it more significant. We know what we are trying to achieve and we are all focused on it,” he said, repeating the party line. “It’s all about what happens on the pitch. That’s the priority.”
He went on: “We stopped a few hearts in the way we qualified. We’ve done well in recent years and we want to do well again. It’s a big one but it was going to be big whoever we drew. It’s a very long time since we played them. They are a very good team and they doing well in the Italian league. It’s going to be tough.”