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Thursday, February 22, 2007

UEFA Champions League, Inter Milan 2-2 Valencia

Wasteful Inter held by Valencia
Inter Milan were left kicking themselves after being held to a 2-2 draw by Valencia in a gripping Champions League last 16, first leg tie here on Wednesday. Inter had led in both halves of an engaging encounter at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, but the strikes from midfielders Esteban Cambiasso and Maicon were nullified by long-range efforts from David Villa and David Silva as Valencia refused to concede defeat.
Inter's fans may have been reduced in number but that only served to ramp up the volume in the Curva Nord and the home side responded by carving out some fine early opportunities. Their first chance came as a result of a mistake by Santiago Cañizares, whose attempted clearance rebounded off Zlatan Ibrahimović and looped back over his head towards goal. Roberto Ayala was on hand to spare his blushes with a crucial clearance.

Along with Zanetti and Cambiasso, Luís Figo was justifying his selection with an excellent performance and, after luring David Albelda into a foul on the right flank on 29 minutes, the 34-year-old delivered a curling free-kick which was touched goalwards by Ibrahimović. Cañizares made a fine reaction save but the reflexes of Cambiasso were even quicker as he stooped to head in the rebound.
Valencia, seemingly affected by an injury-depleted squad, were largely reduced to chasing shadows although Villa almost equalised in the 44th minute when he drove wide of the far post from 15 metres after flicking the ball over Iván Córdoba. That would have been harsh on the hosts, who should have doubled their lead a minute earlier when Crespo dived headlong to send Dejan Stanković's centre narrowly wide.

The second half continued in the same vein as Figo squandered two openings, first finding his shot blocked by Albiol following another sweeping Nerazzurri move, then failing to make clean contact with an angled attempt from ten metres. Valencia barely threatened but, against the run of play, pulled themselves level on 64 minutes when Villa unleashed a venomous strike. The visitors were awarded a free-kick 30 metres from goal and the Spanish international stepped up to beat Júlio César for pace and accuracy.
Valencia's tails were up and they began to pass the ball around with confidence but with a quarter of an hour remaining, they conceded again. Maicon, excellent all night, set off on another foraging right-wing run, exchanged passes with substitute Julio Cruz and sidefooted the ball in from six metres for a goal his selfless industry merited.

The Primera División team were not done yet, though. They grabbed a lifeline four minutes from time when Silva volleyed in from the edge of the area following a half-cleared corner to secure a second away goal and leave the tie weighted in Valencia's favour for the return leg on 6 March.

We Should Have Won, Says Crespo. "It's not easy, but neither unreachable," declared the Argentinean striker. "If we play like tonight, we can easily win in Spain. Luck did not help us, the usual Inter would have won with a two goal difference. The goals were two blows which are difficult to explain."

Zanetti: We'll Go To Spain To Win, "We're disappointed for drawing this match, however we deserved something more, but this is football. We must go to Spain and win the match, and I'm sure that we will succeed. "We had our chances to win this match. They put us in difficulty from set-pieces, but we're confident that this team can win in Spain. They have players with good technique and always find a way through."

Well Zanetti, I'm not sure about that... But who knows what is gonna happen in Spain.. Anyways now for the match's full highlights: