x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Another English test for Inter

Last season's victory over Chelsea saw Milan side end jinx.

Inter’s Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder, left, jokes around in training yesterday.
Inter’s Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder, left, jokes around in training yesterday.

MILAN // The last time Tottenham Hotspur played a competitive match at the San Siro was 38 years ago. It was in the old Uefa Cup, so long ago that the name Uefa Cup was still a novelty. Back then, Spurs progressed at AC Milan's expense, having drawn 1-1 in Italy.

So full has the European calendar become since then that what is a stand-out Champions League date tonight for Spurs is almost routine for Inter Milan.

Their fans are only too used to Premier League clubs appearing at their venue, and have reason to be anxious about each one.

Last February, Chelsea played Inter, with the first leg in Milan, in the last-16 stage of the competition, and, to general surprise, Inter won both the home leg and the 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge. The rest is history, Inter going on to win the European Cup for the first time in more than 40 years.

But that Chelsea tie was in many ways the key watershed of that triumphant season. Inter had too often in previous seasons found the representatives of English football insurmountable in Europe.

Twelve months before the conquering of Chelsea, an insipid Inter were knocked out of the Champions League by Manchester United.

A year before that, in the tie that would be taken as the signal that Roberto Mancini's time as Inter head coach was coming to an end, Liverpool disposed of the Italian champions.

Spool back the tape of recent history a little further and you discover that, with the arrival of Tottenham for tomorrow's Group A meeting, Inter will have met every English club to have qualified for the group stage of the Champions League in the last decade.

When Arsenal came to the San Siro in 2003 they walloped Inter 5-1; even Newcastle United picked up a point there, two Alan Shearer goals earning a 2-2 draw.

Rafa Benitez talks of Spurs, for all their inexperience in the competition, "as a team who will be very tough for us", Sides coached by Harry Redknapp often have been for him.

The two coaches have a lengthy head-to-head history from the period when Benitez managed Liverpool and Redknapp was in charge of Portsmouth and then Tottenham.

With the first of those, the Englishman found himself mainly on the losing side, although he did draw twice and won once against Liverpool in six meetings. Redknapp's Spurs, meanwhile, tended to beat Benitez's Liverpool at White Hart Lane and to lose at Anfield.

The key duel, though, was last season's: had Benitez achieved his customary top-four finish in the Premier League with Liverpool, Spurs, who finished fourth, would not be enjoying a debut season in the Champions League.

The pair did a good deal of business in England. Peter Crouch, signed by Benitez for Liverpool, then sold to Portsmouth, and bought again by Redknapp at Spurs, hopes his participation tonight will be more active than his last visit to Inter, when Benitez kept him on the Liverpool bench in 2007/08.

"I've no grudges against Rafa Benitez," Crouch told reporters ahead of the game, "because he's a top manager. But it would be nice to score there."

Robbie Keane, whom Benitez bought and sold while at Anfield, will be grateful for any participation at all. Keane, who played for Inter 10 years ago as a callow 20-year-old, is currently on the fringes at Spurs.

Redknapp will need to delve into his deeper resources a little, given the absence through suspension of Rafael van der Vaart. Typically, Ledley King is also an injury doubt.

Benitez, meanwhile, has been bemoaning his injury difficulties since the end of the international break, but while Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito are significant absences, Thiago Motta and Javier Zanetti returned for the weekend's 1-0 win in Cagliari.

Zanetti, should he start, will be briefed to watch the forward runs on the left flank of Gareth Bale. The Welsh flyer is a potent weapon for Spurs and Maicon, at right-back for Inter, has not been in vintage form.



10.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +3