MILAN // Inter Milan snagged Barcelona's seemingly inevitable run to another Champions League crown with a resounding 3-1 win over the titleholder in the semi-final first leg on Tuesday. Pedro Rodriguez gave Barcelona the lead in the 19th minute, but Wesley Sneijder equalised before the break. Once Maicon gave Inter the lead early in the second period the hosts was able to dominate, and Diego Milito deservedly added a third with a header midway through the second half. As the match continued, Barcelona appeared fatigued, perhaps feeling the effects of the 725-kilometre coach trip the team was forced to take after flights were grounded across Europe following the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
Inter might have to make the same arrangement for the return leg on Wednesday next week. But to add to the Catalan team's problems, Barcelona captain Carles Puyol will miss the return leg after being booked for a foul on Milito. After a slow start Inter had the first chance of the game. Samuel Eto'o forced Victor Valdes into a low save with a shot from outside the area. Milito was first to the rebound, but pushed his effort across the face of the goal from a tight angle. Barcelona opened the scoring with relative ease. Maxwell beat a weak challenge from Esteban Cambiasso down the left flank, cut the ball back to Pedro and the winger shot low into the net from the penalty spot. Milito missed another chance in the 27th. Goran Pandev flicked the ball past Puyol to Milito, but he shot wide of Valdes' far post from close in. Inter equalised in the 30th. Eto'o picked out Milito in the area, Barcelona's defence tried to crowd him out, but he was able to pick out Sneijder to shoot past Valdes.
Jose Mourinho's side took the lead early in the second half with a flowing move that caught Barcelona's defence on the break. Pandev found Milito onside behind Barcelona's defence, he broke into the box and touched it into the path of the overlapping Maicon to score from close range. Messi had his first shot of the match in the 53rd, forcing Cesar into a sharp save with a shot from the edge of the box. A minute later Cesar needed to be quick again to stop Sergio Busquets' close-range header from Xavi Hernandez's corner before Cambiasso eventually cleared the danger. Milito finally scored in the 61st. Eto'o broke down the right wing and hit a cross to Sneijder at the back post. He nodded the ball back across the goal for Milito's header from close range. It meant Inter was able to exploit space on the flanks or between the defence and midfield to stop Barcelona from playing its usual pressing game and keep the midfield on the back foot.
Cesar kept out another effort from Messi in the 79th when he dived low to push away his free kick, and Thiago Motta kept out Gerard Pique in the closing minutes. * AP