Inter’s Champions League journey: Their European alphabet

From A for anticipation to Z for Zanetti. The story of Inter’s European season using the letters of the alphabet that have taken them to B for Bernabeu. Mourinho and the other key figures, the critical matches, and the crucial moments

BARCELONA, 29 April 2010 - Madrid is now a reality and the cup just 90 minutes away, or 120 at the most. Last autumn it seemed very far off, unreachable. However, something has changed and the Nerazzurri have won a place in the final. Inter now speak a European language and this is its alphabet.

a for anticipation — Now the anticipation is over, but it is been a long wait. Their last European Cup final was 38 years ago, in 1972. It was won by the Ajax of Johann Cruyff, who yesterday watched the elimination of BarÁa of which he is honorary chairman. Their last win was 45 years ago, in 1965, when the ‘Grande Inter’ beat Benfica 1-0, with Jair scoring the winner.

b for bernabeu — The home of the galacticos of Real Madrid is the promised land. Last night the fans sung, “We’re on our way to Madrid.” They will be trying to write a new page in the history in this legendary stadium.

c for chelsea — The win at Stamford Bridge was perhaps the real masterpiece of their season. It was there that Mourinho’s team overcame their fear, realising that they could attack and beat anyone. Knocking out Chelsea (one of the 3 favourites at the start of the season) and beating their ‘quarterfinal jinx’ really set Inter on the road to Madrid.

d for downpour — The shower on the Nou Camp, caused when some Barcelona employees opened the water hydrants. They thought they could interrupt the Nerazzurri celebrations, but instead just added to the memory of it all.

e for eto'o — Samuel is in the final, while Ibrahimovic has been knocked out by the Inter team he left because he thought he had to go elsewhere to win the Champions League. Inter clearly got the best out of last summer’s swap. Eto’o can defend (not just yesterday, and not only in an emergency) and he scores crucial goals, and has already done so in a Champions League final.

f for father — Like father, like son? Massimo Moratti, the son, is really following in the footsteps of his father Angelo. All he needs is the Champions League, but this may soon be his. It has been tough, very tough, over the years. And it has been expensive, very expensive.

g for group — Close-knit as never before. With rare exceptions (see N) the impression is that Mourinho has completely won over at least the 15 men of his squad, now ready to follow him over the top, to cover his back, celebrate with him, and more.

h for helenio herrera — In the footsteps of a myth. Mourinho like HH. Moratti commented: “He is like Helenio Herrera in the way he works, in his attention to detail, and in his match preparation.”

i for italy — There may not be many Italians on the score sheets, especially in the decisive games, but yesterday’s match was pure Italian and Inter are the first Italian team in the final since AC Milan in 2007. However, it won’t be enough to stop Germany overtaking Italy in the rankings.

j for julio cesar — He became emperor again at the right moment, saving a seemingly unstoppable shot from Messi. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if a goal had been scored at that point the match would have taken a different turn.

k for kiev — The season turned there, in Kiev. In the 86th minute Inter were losing 1-0, but in the end they triumphed 2-1, thanks to goals by Milito and Sneijder. They were virtually out of the Champions League, but fate decreed otherwise: the team turned a corner in Kiev.

l for lucio — The man who subdued opposing centre forwards. First Drogba, then Ibrahimovic, just to mention the most prominent. Then there was his triumph at San Siro, against Chelsea, with the whole stadium chanting his name.

m for main supporting wall — That is The Wall, Walter Samuel, who formed part of an often unbeatable central defensive partnership. Samuel has been playing the best football of his career, the first brick in a wall that in Barcelona became a team effort.

n for not picked — That is Mario Balotelli, who is out of the squad, an extraneous object, out of sorts first with the manager, then the team and fans, and finally with his pals. In London and at home against CSKA he was punished, at the San Siro against BarÁa he was melodramatic.

o for optimum performance without the ball — One of the Josť Mourinho's interesting linguistic inventions in this season’s Champions League, used to justify the 0-0 debut against Barcelona, when Inter hardly saw the ball. He followed it with “something grey” and “the Bernabeu obsession.”

p for prince — Diego Milito, the royal prince. The four goals he has scored have hardly done him justice, but the ovations that greet him at the San Siro certainly do. An irreplaceable centre forward.

q for quirky four-two-three-one — The formation first used for the comebacks, which then became standard. It is used to attack opponents, to frighten them, while continuing to provide defensive cover.

r for robben and ribery — Bayern’s two best weapons for the final. However the Frenchman has been suspended. Robben will play though, another Real castoff, along with Sneijder, returning to the Bernabeu.

s for special one — No one can now argue that he isn’t special. Not just off the pitch, not just at press conferences. Mourinho is also special tactically, in training and probably also in his team talks, which we don’t get to hear. But we certainly see their effects.

t for treble — Inter are still fighting on three fronts: The Champions League, Serie A, and the Italian Cup. BarÁa did the treble last season, but no one has ever managed it in Italy.

u for union of soviet socialist republics — The semifinal and final may be played out in Spain, but the foundations were built in the East: in Kazan, Kiev and Moscow, long journeys to cold and unknown places. But all’s well that ends well.

w for wesley sneijder — A quality player, and superb buy: five assists in the Champions League and three goals. Then there were his lightning retrievals, his ideas and his running and pressing of opposing players on the ball.

x for x, that is, a draw — There were three in the group after the first three games. Then Inter tired of draws and never did so again, also clocking up a winning run of six matches on the trot.

y for "y la remontada?" — Which translates “And what about the comeback?” This echoed through the streets of Barcelona after the 1-0 second leg result. The Catalan epic became a taunt on the lips of the Interisti: "Remuntada" became a cry of joy.

z for zanetti — The captain, the joker, the man who plays well wherever he’s placed. And he really is well. It’s hard to believe that he is 36 going on 37. He has been with Inter for fifteen seasons and now finally can dream of lifting the cup in Madrid.