x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Mourinho 1, Entertainment 0

The pre-match hype was matched only by the post-match disappointment.

Inter Milan's Cameroon forward Samuel Eto'o, left, fights for the ball with his former teammate, Barcelona's Gerard Pique, at the San Siro.
Inter Milan's Cameroon forward Samuel Eto'o, left, fights for the ball with his former teammate, Barcelona's Gerard Pique, at the San Siro.

The pre-match hype was matched only by the post-match disappointment. Inter Milan and Barcelona, two teams possessing the cream of world talent, played out a cagey 0-0 draw at the San Siro on Wednesday night. At this early stage in the Champions League, one senses that both managers will be satisfied with the point - but a match billed as the potential final of this competition did not quench the collective thirst for an open, attacking game.

From their lofty position in European football, Pep Guardiola's Barcelona irk many in their claim to sporting and intellectual superiority. Their belief often appears to be that, with a constant flow of home-grown players in their ranks and a mesmerising passing style, their beautiful game entitles them to success. In fact they did get shirty, as against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final last season, when they felt they were been beaten by "ugly" football.

From last season's glorious campaign - they completed a domestic and European Treble - their elitist ethos would seem to be justified. But at the San Siro it was Barca at their worst - dominating possession yet barely mustering a shot. On the other hand Jose Mourinho, Inter Milan's coach, has never pretended to be a student of the beautiful game. His direct, effective tactics have brought him plenty of success at Porto, Chelsea and now Inter. His side stifled Barca defensively, but were similarly toothless up front.

Job well done for the Portuguese manager, who will bank on picking up maximum points against the group's other two teams, Dinamo Kiev and Rubin Kazan. Unfortunately, it did not make for much of a spectacle for the neutral. The match was billed as a battle of the strikers, with Barca's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Inter's Samuel Eto'o turning out against their former clubs. It turned into a battle of the defences.

"We didn't create enough chances," Guardiola said. "It is always hard to play Italian teams, nor is it easy to create chances against them. Everybody could see that we've gone out to try and win this game. Nobody can deny that, and this is a reason to feel proud. It's never easy to score when there are nine players in the area. "The result is what it is. It's not bad, but neither is it good." Inter came close twice at the end of the match, with Wesley Sneijder and substitute Dejan Stankovic narrowly missing the target.

"If we had scored, we would have won, but we wouldn't have deserved it as Barcelona was better," Mourinho said. "A match against Barcelona is a great training session, against the European champions. With a bit more luck we would have won, with a bit less we would have lost." Ibrahimovic's first touch of the ball was greeted with a chorus of whistles from Inter fans but they dissipated as the match went on. The Swedish forward - who Barca gave Inter ?46 million (Dh258m) plus Eto'o to sign - had a great scoring chance in the seventh minute. Daniel Alves chipped a ball over the defence to him, but Ibrahimovic's volley was high and wide with only Cesar to beat.

Nevertheless, Ibrahimovic was pleased with the result, saying: "I'm happy because Inter are a very strong team. It would have been fairer for Barca to have got the three points, but one point is sufficiently good. It's been emotional to play in Milan against my ex-teammates." "Ibrahimovic did well," Guardiola added. "He had a good chance, but it is never easy, but he kept trying so I'm happy." Eto'o, who scored the opener when Barca beat Manchester United 2-0 to lift the trophy last May, put in a similarly indifferent performance as Ibrahimovic against his former side. "It was difficult for him. But he worked hard for the team and that's why I like Samuel," Mourinho said after refusing to comment on Ibrahimovic's display.

"From the bench I saw two teams with respect for each other," Mourinho added. "Inter committed 12 fouls in the whole match, four in the first and eight in the second. I think it was a great performance by Inter." * With agencies