x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Quaresma suffers in the anti-climax

As Inter Milan left the San Siro field on Sunday afternoon, it was with the clear sound of whistles in their ears.

As Inter Milan left the San Siro field on Sunday afternoon, it was with the clear sound of whistles in their ears. The jeers had not, admittedly, come from everybody in a scantly-filled stadium, and nor were they directed at all the players in blue-and-black stripes. Only a stone-heart, though, could help feeling a little sorry for Ricardo Quaresma, the Portuguese winger who bore the brunt of the crowd's frustration towards the end of Inter's 1-1 draw at home to Bari. Quaresma spent the second-half of last season treading water, on loan at Chelsea, sent there partly because the Inter crowd were getting on his back so much following his ?18 million (Dh93m) move to Italy from Porto 12 months ago.

Quaresma wore a new number on his jersey, the No 7, but Inter fans still recognised him as the inconsistent flatterer-to-deceive of old. His crossing was wayward against Bari, and, in spite of his part in a reshuffle that effectively had Jose Mourinho's team lining up with four up front for most of the second-half, he became an easy symbol of the strange impotence that affected the champions during their first match in defence of their title.

Inter's only goal came from a penalty, converted by Samuel Eto'o, the Serie A debutant, who snatched at a couple of other chances that, normally, he would have been expected to convert. Gabriel Milito, the other new striker to whom chances would fall, also seemed tense, and Mourinho will doubtless have by this morning formulated his thoughts on the position where Lucio, the centre-half recruited from Bayern Munich, found himself when the killer pass was delivered for Vitali Kutuzov to score Bari's equaliser.

Mourinho insisted "there are no excuses: we played badly". He then provided some. "This is a totally new team and we don't yet have the routines you get from playing a lot together." It was a reasonable alibi. By the final whistle, Inter's XI included five players who were not at the club when they won the scudetto last June. None had glorious introductions to their home fans, though Eto'o will be pleased to have opened his account, especially with a penalty. His record from the spot turned imperfect at the end of his Barcelona career, and he has failed to deliver from 12 metres on more than one important occasion for his country, Cameroon.

Eto'o could not be flawed for effort, but Mourinho has work to do ahead of Saturday's derby against AC Milan. The absence of Esteban Cambiasso, who is injured, did affect the tempo of Inter's football - a 6pm kick-off on a hot August afternoon may also have done - and Patrick Vieira, whose fitness must now be deemed a rare occurrence, lasted only 45 minutes in Cambiasso's post. Ali Sulley Muntari endured even fewer minutes, less than half an hour, before being replaced by Mario Balotelli. Muntari, an observant Muslim, "may have been suffering from fasting for Ramadan," reckoned Mourinho.

Inter looked disjointed, with Lucio's debut the most challenging for Mourinho to interpret. The big, bossy Brazilian can be a wonderful asset for a side because he has style on the ball and authority as a stopper. He has never curbed his enthusiasm for extravagant safaris upfield, either, and in that sense he will raise eyebrows in the rigorous environment of Serie A and Lucio found himself yards ahead of his fellow defenders for Bari's goal.

Milan and Juventus, with Ronaldinho and Diego prominent, meanwhile, both won on day one. "Now you'll be saying Milan are fantastic, and we are struggling," Mourinho sniped at reporters. Ian Hawkey is an expert on Italian football and has been covering Serie A for 15 years @Email:ihawkey@thenational.ae