Inter take the slenderest of leads all the way to Moscow in this return leg of the Champions League quarter final. Mou has called the whole squad to take on the Professional Football Club Central Sports Club of Army Moscow at the Luzhniki Stadium with its now infamous synthetic pitch. The Armeytsy Moskvy had the weekend off so will be fresh as daisies and looking to make the most of their home-field advantage. Inter, on the other hand, is brimming with confidence and determination. We want the semi finals every bit as bad as they do and with a little luck and a great performance from our boys, we just may take the tie.
What: CSKA Moscow v Inter Milan, Champions League Quarterfinal Return Leg
Where: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
When: Tuesday, April 6, 8:30pm local time (6:30pm CET; 9:30am pacific, 12:30pm eastern)
Weather: Forecast calls for clear skies, with temperatures ranging between 59 and 24 degrees F.
How to Watch: Live on Fox Soccer Channel (thank you time zone differences), or PPV on UEFA.com. If neither of these choices work for you, you can find a stream: MyP2P, Rojadirecta, Ustream, and ATDHE.net
Ok, so not a whole lot has changed in a week. For a run-down of CSKA Moscow, I suggest you take a look at last week's preview.
The only real changes are that both Honda and Gonzales have had a week to recuperate from whatever knocks they were suffering from and both Krasic and Aldonin are suspended for this game. So I guess you win some and you lose some.
CSKA had a game rescheduled against Zenit St. Petersburg that was supposed to take place on Saturday for security reasons. Originally the game was supposed to be played in CSKA's home stadium, the Khimki Stadium, but the club thought they would move it to the Luzhniki to seat more people. The change in venue along with the Easter holiday and the heightened security after the recent bombings means that there aren't enough security forces to go around (this weekend was also the Moscow derby between Lokomotiv and Dynamo) so the game was postponed a week.
While the whole thing certainly seems convenient, it is also totally justifiable. Thirty-nine people died and many others were injured in those bombings - anything the Russian government can do to stop terrorists from murdering innocent people is worth it. Still, I cant help but wish that Italy took such good care of the Serie A teams competing in Europe.
For those of you who missed the first leg of this tie, check out MAD's game recap and here are the highlights (note the incredible reflexes of Moscow's keeper):
Mourinho has taken everyone who is fit to Russia:
Portieri: Toldo, Julio Cesar, Orlandoni;
Difensori: Cordoba, Zanetti, Lucio, Maicon, Materazzi, Samuel, Chivu;
Centrocampisti: Stankovic, Quaresma, Thiago Motta, Sneijder, Muntari, Krhin, Mariga, Cambiasso;
Attaccanti: Eto'o, Milito, Pandev, Balotelli, Arnautovic.
As you can see, poor Santon is not on the list. He bravely put off having his knee surgery to make himself available for the Bologna game last Saturday. What a trooper. He clearly was not at 100% but I salute his work ethic - I just hope he didn't aggravate his injury. Poor kid, this year has been a real trial with that knee. Fingers crossed that this surgery takes care of the problem once and for all.
Mou was forced into a bit of a rotation this last weekend with Zanetti, Eto'o, Maicon, and Lucio all suspended. As such, they should all be well rested and ready to go. Sneijder played about 20 minutes - enough to keep game-sharp but not so much as to exhaust him. In fact, the only one who really looks like they could use a break is Diego Milito. He has been absolutely fantastic for Inter this season - well beyond any of my hopes for him - and I can understand why Mou wants him to play every game. The only problem is, he is not Javier Zanetti (so few people are) and just does not seem to be able to keep up with the pace. With Balotelli back in the fold, perhaps Diego could have a little rest once in a while. (and how great was it to see Mario back on the scoresheet!?!)
Well, we get a little training on the plastic pitch.
"It will be on a synthetic pitch and the goalkeepers have practiced on one but the other players did light training. First we have to think about Saturday's match and then we travel to Moscow. But it won't be a problem. If our players played in the streets when they were little, they can certainly play on a synthetic pitch."
and then today:
"I do not care. Whether you think it is positive or negative you will play on this field. For us it will only be a disadvantage: if the Champions League began with 32 teams, 31 play on a grass field and 1 played on a synthetic field, it is not fair for those 31 teams. "
That boy and his ankles, maybe we should start calling him Achilles.
As I am sure many of you have read by now, Muntari and Sneijder had a little accident in training today resulting in a twisted ankle for Wesley. Before we all panic, though, he has not been ruled out of tomorrow's game. Mourinho said:
"He had a problem in training, let's wait and see. I will wait until the very last minute as this is the most important game of the season and I will take risks if necessary.... I am not bluffing: in my opinion he will be on the pitch"
So, deep breaths, everyone.
As for lineups, Mou did give us some hints, saying "Milito, Eto’o, Sneijder, Cambiasso, Zanetti, Maicon and Julio Cesar" will start.
As for the rest of the line-up, who knows. Will Zanetti or Chivu play leftback... Will we see a reprise of Stankovic and Thiago Motta in midfield... What about Balotelli? I am sure that I dont know the answer to any of those questions so we will just have to wait and see. I think us Inter fans should count ourselves lucky that there is such an embarrassment of riches on the roster that we cannot immediately identify the line-up for tomorrow. Plus, it keeps our foes guessing.
Mourinho was not so happy with CSKA's weekend off, and had a couple jabs about it during his press conference today, saying:
"They have already done one good thing: they postponed their league match, with a slightly sad excuse, but they did well to do it. They could have told the truth. Anyway we're not angry with UEFA because you can't control everything. Do I hear the noise of the enemies in the Champions League as well as in the championship? They are two different competitions, particularly in terms of their duration. Anyway, like they say in Portugal or in Italy, and like I have already said, Galliani made an intelligent play that time and CSKA have also done it now..."
I originally had my crappy translation of this transcription of Mou's statement. Clearly, I had things wrong so I got the official statement from the Inter web page - in English. I didn't think that sad was used to mean poor in Italian, but maybe it is - I still think he means sad when he says sad but you are free to make your own interpretation.
Then, when asked if he would like to one day coach in Russia, he said
"I would only like to coach CSKA where one can change the games when one wants."
There was only one puzzling thing Mourinho said in his presser today. When asked about Balotelli leaving at the end of the season, Mou said he was under contract until 2020 or 2018. As far as I know, that is false - Mario's contract expires in 2013. I think by now we all know that Mourinho has a reason for everything he says, so why the mix-up? Or could it be that he is just tired and misspoke? Naaaaaahh. There must be a reason.
For those of you with a little Italian, here is the full presser:
So, to recap:
-- They had the weekend off and are more experienced with the synthetic pitch.
-- Krasic and Aldonin are out, but Honda and Gonzales are probably much more fit than last week
-- Sneijder had a knock in training, but it is likely that he will play
-- Other starters are Milito, Eto’o, Cambiasso, Zanetti, Maicon and Julio Cesar
There are a few more positives in their column, but I think we have a more talented squad (but then, I am biased). Anything can happen tomorrow and we should never count our chickens before they hatch - favorite or no, both teams start at 0-0 when that opening whistle blows tomorrow. Still, I think we have a pretty good shot at moving through to the semifinals. We go though on any draw or if we win - I think even a 2-1 loss will see us through on the away goal rule. A 1-0 scoreline for CSKA will force overtime, though. Personally, a 0-1 Inter win will see me thrilled to tears, and I think we can do it.
For all of you non-Inter fans who are pulling for the team to continue in the Champions League - I very much appreciate your support and fully understand that it only applies to this competition. I know you will all go back to hating our guts or being neutral when that final whistle blows. Still, every little bit helps - thanks for the added positive energy.
This is a big one, and I expect all you Inter fans to be fully focused with your happiest of thoughts.