x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Five sublime passes enough for Inter to win final

The speed in which a side switches from defence to the attack so often separates great teams from the merely good as Milan proved against Mazembe.

Inter Milan's Goran Pandev scores the opening goal against TP Mazembe at the Zayed Sports City.
Inter Milan's Goran Pandev scores the opening goal against TP Mazembe at the Zayed Sports City.

ABU DHABI // The speed in which a side switches from defence to the attack so often separates great teams from the merely good.

The ball might be in one half of the pitch, a pass goes astray, and in three or four sublime touches and hardly as many seconds the ball is in the back of the net at the other end of the park.

So it was for Inter Milan in the 13th minute of the 2010 Club World Cup final last night.

TP Mazembe, the African champions who had become the sentimental favourites of the tournament, appeared to be settling in, a dozen minutes into the game at Zayed Sports City.

They seemed up to the pace, they were coming forward with what appeared to be prudence, and they allowed the romantics in the stadium to believe they might just be able to stage what would be the greatest upset in Club World Cup history.

It did not seem as if Inter were about to put their stamp on the game as Cristian Chivu, the Romanian left-back, addressed the ball a few yards inside the touchline in midfield.

But special teams can change the complexion of a game in a matter of a few heartbeats.

Chivu looked up and saw Diego Milito making a diagonal run about 30 yards ahead of him, and he sent a sharp pass towards the Argentine forward.

It came in a bit hot and a bit high as it reached Milito, who was closely marked, and rather than try to settle he knocked it back, diagonally, toward Samuel Eto'o, who was a bit closer to the middle of the field. Eto'o, the most sublime talent among Inter's assemblage of greats, clearly knew what he wanted to do before the ball arrived.

He was facing in the correct direction to see the Macedonian striker Goran Pandev charging down the middle of the field, albeit with two Mazembe defenders between Eto'o and his teammate.

Eto'o had a solution. He did not allow the ball to touch the ground, striking it at about waist level with a side-swinging motion, a decisive but not violent touch.

His pass was perfectly weighted and attained exactly the right altitude, sailing just beyond the outstretched boot of the Mazembe midfielder Kazembe Mihayo, who was retreating rapidly in defence.

The ball took one bounce as Pandev crossed into the box, and he used the outside of his left leg to settle it, bringing his knee up to stifle the ball's impetus with his foot and bring it down away from an onrushing defender on his right.

The bounce was not as true as Pandev might have expected, a bit low and barely ahead of him, but he adjusted as his left leg was swinging, getting enough of the ball as the defender Kiritcho Kasusula sailed in from his right to send it toward the left post.

Mazembe's last hope was the goalkeeper Muteba Kidiabe, he of the famous "duck" celebration who had not been beaten in two previous matches.

He flung himself to his right, but Pandev's shot was beyond his fingertips and inside the post. Goal.

TP Mazembe would threaten to score several times. But that four-player, five-touch sequence in the 13th minute put Inter in a position of authority they never surrendered and demonstrated again why they are the best club side in Europe and, now, the world.