The 2003-04 season has finally come to an end. It was yet another up and down season for Inter and fans worldwide. The last match of the season brings an end to another year without a Scudetto win for Inter and today against Empoli the result was needed to secure Inter's minimum objective of Champions League qualification. With a 3-2 win, Inter secure 4th spot overall and finish the season on a positive note.
Zac pretty much confirms the squad against Parma but makes a few changes bringing in Martins instead of Kallon, Adriano instead of suspended Vieri and Gammara instead of injured Cannavaro. It seem's Inter still has a complex when all is on the line at the last day. As we saw a few years ago with the Scudetto for the taking on the last day, Inter crumbled. Today it looked to be a repeat as Empoli had full control of the match in the first half.
Inter's cronic problems existed again today. Lack of self confidence, errors in simple passes, and struggling wing play all gave Empoli the run of play. The Tuscan side were first to every ball and it did not take long for Empoli to test the Inter defence. Zac places Cordoba against DiNatale, but the real threat of the day was Vannucchi who was controlling the midfield and supplying balls to Rocchi with ease.
From a counter attack Empoli charge forward at the 18th minute. Materazzi and Gammara are forced to chase and bring down Vannuchi just outside the area. Toldo makes the save on the free kick shot but the rebound comes out to Lucchini and he puts the ball in the top corner giving Empoli the 1-0 lead and bringing thoughts of May 5th back into the fans and players minds. Could Inter fail again on the last day??
Luckily being a goal down brought back some spunk to the Inter side who up until that point did very little to deserve the champions league spot. It was a limited response though as Empoli did well to fight the storm and used the counter attack to keep Inter back. Empoli should have been 2-0 up before half time as yet another counter attack by Vannuchi and Di Natale saw the ball come out off the Inter post keeping Inter in the game.
Once again it was all up to the individual rather than the team to lift Inter. As was the case last week against Parma it was Adriano who answered the call and at the stroke of half time Kily sends in a cross from a free kick that Adriano climbs high to meet and scores a great header as he sends the ball across the face of the goal which hits the post and goes in to make it 1-1 at half time.
Both teams come out in the second half content on keeping the tie scoreline and not taking many chances. Zac realizes that Martins strength comes from being able to run through the defence but with Empoli playing so far back, Martins had a hard time breaking through. Zac sends on Recoba for Martins and the change pays off within minutes as Recoba scores a wonderful free kick that curls past the keeper who gets a touch, but cannot keep it out to make it 2-1 at the 20th minute of the second half.
Empoli now are on the back foot and realize they are facing Serie B head on. 4 minutes later its Adriano who puts the nail into the coffin as he scores his second goal of the match. Oh what a goal it was!!! Adriano takes the ball in the midfield and takes on 5 Empoli players on his own. With pure force and dribbling Adriano beats all of them and runs straight into the area where he dummies the goalie with a dribble and scores a great goal to make it 3-1 at the 24th minute.
Rocchi made the last 10 minutes interesting as he scores to make it 3-2 but Inter did enough to keep Empoli at bay and secure the 3 points to bring home 4th spot and a Champions League qualifying round game this summer.
Of course we must remember that it has been a very turbulant year. A coaching change part way through, many injuries, many suspensions, an early champions league exit and so on. We must say that Inter have done quite well over the last months of the season to even gain the 4th spot. After the early months of the new year it would have been hard to predict Inter would even get this result.
Lets take a look at the positives and realize that Inter have put forth a wonderul effort to finish the year on a high note. Infact, Inter have been probably the best team in Serie A over the last months as they have lost only 1 game in the last 10 of the season (Week 25 to Today). Of course our main goal was the Scudetto and it has slipped away again but lets take the positive out of the year and hope that this run can continue over to next season.
My friends, as always it has been a great pleasure to experience the season with you guys via the Internet. The discussions, opinions and friendships that has developed from being Inter fans has been the real prize over the last few years.
Lets look forward to Euro 2004, the transfer campaign and the summer where we now have a blank page and once again we will be allowed to dream and hope that it will be our year to celebrate and enjoy the feeling of being crowned champions!!