With three clubs in the quarter-finals we would go back to 2006: we had the money then and now we have the ideas. Inzaghi is for classics, not great tours
And now Naples. Then it’ll be glory, pride, history: Italy haven’t led three teams to the quarter-finals of the Champions League since 2006, seventeen years ago, and this time we’re really close after Inter Milan followed by progressing to the quarter-finals has catapulted Europe’s top eight. Like Pioli, Inzaghi qualified thanks to a 0-0 away draw after a 1-0 win at the San Siro. Some will say we’re back to the Catenacciari of yesteryear and in fact we’ve never conceded a goal (in the five round of 16 games played so far we haven’t conceded even one). In reality, we have seen teams that defended with organization and heart, clarity and tenacity, forced to mark, also because of the qualities of their opponents. Of course, there were great sufferings, there were difficult moments, there was also a touch of luck (unbelievable what happened in stoppage time, between saves on the line and the post in front of Onana). However, Milan and Inter left the homes of Tottenham and Porto undefeated without stealing anything, despite fears the night before. And then knowing how to protect yourself and not concede goals is not a shame, but a credit.
Inzaghi led Inter to the quarter-finals of the Champions League 12 years after the last time. He confirmed himself as a trophy animal: in direct confrontation, indoors or out, he almost never goes wrong, quite the opposite of what happens in the league. Obviously Simone is a man of road racing, not Grand Tours, Milan-San Remo and not Giro d’Italia. But of course the weight is different when the classic in question is the Champions League and not the Italian Cup or the Italian Super Cup. Now Inter can look ahead with renewed confidence: they gave up the Scudetto fight too soon, but what can happen to them in Europe from now on is fascinating. Because now nobody is excluded from a goal. And let’s not forget that Friday’s draw allows for head-to-head matches between teams from the same country. Imagine the significance of a double derby in Milan – the only city with two sides in the top eight on the continent – in the Champions League quarter-finals.
And now Naples. The path to qualifying for Spalletti seems open, even very open after the 2-0 win in Frankfurt, but there isn’t a single moment when the coach doesn’t preach prudence, vigilance and humility. Normal and rightly so, although it seems really difficult that the Serie A champions’ qualification can be questioned by Eintracht. The Azzurri are decidedly stronger than their opponents, they’re in much better shape, they have both of those goals in front of them, and an entire populace is ready to push them over the obstacle. And then they’ve shown time and time again throughout the season that they don’t have the flaws that are common even among dominant sides: no distractions, no hubris and not even a physical decline, which would even be understandable given the number of commitments and the performance intensity.
It is clear that there are pitfalls: emotional, because new sensations have to be managed for most Azzurri; technically, because the Germans aren’t as ugly as they looked (and Napoli made it seem) in the first leg. Enough not to take anything for granted. And now Naples. To finish the job of getting into the Champions League like we could about twenty years ago. But when we were rich: the richest. Leading three teams to the quarter-finals in this difficult and poor time of our football would be an even bigger undertaking than it was then: Less money, fewer champions, in any case extraordinary results. Because football is sometimes a question of ideas. And we’ve had some good, very good ones this season. Or even brilliant ones, like those of Napoli. The only one missing for now.
March 15 – 00:48
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