Italian warnings to Liverpool’s hopes

According to Inter Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Liverpool’s win over the Italian league-leaders on Tuesday night wasn’t against the real Inter Milan and feels confident his side can overturn that 2-0 lead.

Marco Materazzi was sent off after thirty minutes of having to deal with Fernando Torres, finding the referee had no sympathy for cynical little fouls from the former Everton man. After that Inter played a game with little thought for attack – but they’d hardly been looking for a goal before that red card. With Fernando Torres shooting fractionally wide and having another shot save, added to two good penalty shouts by Liverpool, the two goals in the last five minutes were thoroughly deserved. But the lateness of the goals frustrated Ibrahimovic.

“I believe that Inter did well for 85 minutes,” said the Swedish international. “Then Cordoba got hurt, and this was a serious blow because Ivan had done well until then. But not only him, we all fought, all ten gave the maximum. Then in the last five minutes we conceded two goals and it was like a knife through the heart after all the work we had done up until that point.”

For Inter to knock Liverpool out in open play they need to score three goals without reply. A 2-0 scoreline at the end of 90 minutes would lead to extra time – and penalties if no more goals were scored. Any goal from Liverpool would end the chances of extra time and penalties, and would leave Inter requiring four goals to go through. And with Liverpool’s penalty shoot-out successes in last season’s semi-final and 2005’s final, Inter will be desperate to wrap the game up before it gets to that stage. But psychologically the thought of scoring three goals is difficult to deal with, so Ibrahimovic is just thinking about drawing level first, worrying about finishing it off later: “We must score at least two goals. There are two things we have to do. The first is to attack because our game is made to attack, not to defend. The second is to play eleven against eleven because on Tuesday evening that was not the case. Then you will see who is stronger between Inter and Liverpool. And I still believe that we are stronger.”

The game will certainly leave Rafael Benítez up late at night pondering how best to approach it. When Inter successfully turned round a two-goal deficit against Bill Shankly’s men in 1965, two goals were enough thanks to Inter’s away goal from the first leg. They’ve no such help this time, two goals would not see them through – and the referee may not be quite as helpful as the one in 1965 was. Italian football has been proven on more than one occasion in history to have been corrupt, even as recently as 2006. Referees have often been a weakness exploited by club owners to get their team the results they needed, and accusation in 1965 that rage on to this day say that was how Inter got through that tie. No decent Italian supporter likes that kind of interference, but owners of clubs often have over the years, cheating their way to success and of course to the prizes on offer. The football of today is more lucrative than ever, which is why it was hardly a huge surprise when the scandal of 2006 came out. And it was hardly a surprise when teams successfully appealed against their punishments.

Inter weren’t involved in the 2006 scandal, and there’s no suggestion at all that the referee in the return leg will have the same approach as the 1965 version, meaning Rafa’s tactics have a fair chance of paying off. If his side score, they are surely through, but conceding a goal could open the floodgates if Inter perform to their best.

Inter’s Argentinean international Esteban Cambiasso says that keeping a clean sheet is important, and is also working on the principle of two goals being enough: “We’ll have to be calm because it would be lethal to concede a goal at home, but with our qualities we can score two goals against Liverpool. We’ll need a great night, without fear, because this is a 180-minute match. After the first half, we are down 2-0; we’ll see what it will be after 90 minutes.”

Massimo Moratti is Inter’s president, and also believes in his club’s chances of turning the game around: “We’re not out yet. I have faith in the substance of the team: the players, the coach, the mentality, everything,” he said. But perhaps he was in the bar by the time Gerrard had got the second on Tuesday, because he seems to think one goal might be enough in three weeks: “The important thing is to convert one chance and that we prevent the other team from scoring, but that’s football.”

He hinted at knowing his team can perform better than they did on Tuesday, but also feels luck was against them: “I have to be honest, I didn’t see anything that gave me confidence. It went badly from all viewpoints. We went a man down, Cordoba was injured, putting us in a difficult situation, everything went wrong. But we know there is still another 90 minutes to play which could change everything from the other day.”

Meanwhile current England boss Fabio Capello has cautioned the Reds on the task ahead of them in Italy. Capello was once a player and twice a manager with Inter’s rivals AC Milan, and speaking in the Italian press says Liverpool have to be prepared for a difficult fixture: “Liverpool must be very careful at the San Siro,” he said, “Inter are really strong at home. Even at Anfield they defended with order after Materazzi’s sending off, conceding only a couple of chances.”

He says the Italian league-leaders are capable of reversing the deficit, but they too need to be wary, given Liverpool’s recent pedigree in Europe: “They can reverse the result, although it shouldn’t be forgotten that Liverpool haven’t reached two finals in three years by chance,” he said.