Inter’s reactions to Champions League draw
Asked if he thought the win over Bayern Munich had renewed Inter’s belief in their ability to win the Champions League again, Figo replied: “I think the team have shown they have plenty of hunger and ambition left after going through a difficult period. It’s confirmation of the quality of the players and the coach, and of how determined we are to go all the way in this year’s competition.”
President Moratti and José Mourinho both hoped that Inter and Real Madrid wouldn’t be paired at this stage. “From a sentimental point of view I’d agree that playing Real at the moment wouldn’t have been the best thing, but I’ve always said that if you want to win this competition you have to go out on the pitch ready to beat anyone. If we could choose, it would be better of course, but you can’t so Inter always have to go out there with a winning mentality.”
Inter will play the first leg at the Meazza, just like last year: “At least we have some experience of playing at home first, although I would always prefer to play the return leg at our own ground. In any case, fortunately we’ve always done well so I don’t think we’ll have any problems concentrating.” Finally, another comment on Schalke: “They’re a good team who have had their ups and downs this year, but they still have players who can be decisive.”
“Happy? No, but maybe a little bit more relaxed. We’ll only be really happy after we’ve beaten Schalke 04 over two legs. Naturally we are a little less worried because certain more dangerous teams, at least on paper, have been avoided for now.” Inter chief executive Ernesto Paolillo was speaking to Sky Sport Italia about the outcome of the draw in Nyon. Yet he was also keen to point out that “We mustn’t be too relaxed; we have to be very careful because games like these, which might seem easier on paper, have lots of hidden pitfalls. You have to remember that all the sides that have come this far are very good.”
After the win over Bayern Munich, Inter seem to have acquired the self-belief necessary to win the Champions League again this year. “We can feel the weight, albeit a positive one, of being the reigning European champions but naturally we want to go as far as we can and all the way if possible. We were apprehensive about the Bayern match, regardless of the first-leg result, because as the holders you feel you should at least reach the quarter-finals. Bayern was a tough hurdle but we’re over it now. And every further hurdle we clear will spur us on even more.”
The Nerazzurri chief executive later spoke to Inter Channel over the phone: “We mustn’t underestimate Schalke. We always think that avoiding Barcelona or Real Madrid means avoiding problems but it’s not like that. When you relax, unexpected factors come into play. We certainly feel Schalke are beatable but that doesn’t mean it will be simple. The semi-final? Whether it’s Chelsea or Manchester United, we’ll have to go and play at a very difficult ground.”
“We have to show respect for Schalke because it will be a tough game like all the others. We must be careful because nobody reaches the quarter-finals through luck.” Javier Zanetti fired out a warning and called on everyone to maintain maximum concentration when he was interviewed by Inter Channel about the Champions League draw in Nyon today.
Inter faced Schalke 04 in the two-legged 1996/97 UEFA Cup final, which they lost on penalties: “I can look back on it with a smile today. Unfortunately we lost that final but now we have a great chance to get our revenge and reach the semi-finals.”
Reaching the semi-finals would mean a trip to England: “Let’s first concentrate on getting through the quarter-finals. It’s a huge fixture for us and we really want to go all the way.”
The hero of that night in Munich, Goran Pandev, whose goal put Inter into today’s draw for the quarter- and semi-finals, gave his view of the outcome: “We must only think about Schalke. It will be a difficult game because in the quarter-finals you only get good teams, but we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
Lots of observers have said that going on in the Champions League could harm Inter’s chances of overtaking AC Milan in the Serie A race, but Pandev doesn’t agree: “Last year’s experience teaches us that we you can’t treat anyone as an ‘easier’ teams. First we’ll concentrate on Lecce and then we’ll think about the Champions. We know Schalke won’t be rolled over easily, and it’s a very tough ground to go to.”
Upon leaving his offices this afternoon journalists questioned the Inter president on the Champions league draw and other topics…
Was this the most favourable draw you could have hoped for?
“In football you only find out if there was something favourable after you’ve played the game. It’s good that we don’t have to tackle a bigger, more in-form side straightaway, but Schalke have a good tradition and they are another German team so they’re never going to lie down for us. We absolutely must not underestimate this fixture; we would get it all wrong if we did.”
Do you still believe in the treble dream, perhaps completed after beating José Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the final?
“If we win the treble so be it; if we don’t, it will mean that we did everything possible to achieve it. It’s not easy though. If you look back at last year we won the treble in our last three games – three finals – so we’ll have to be ready physically too.”
Would you say Barcelona are the best team around at the moment?
“Barcelona look very strong every year but we managed to beat them so they can lose too.”
What memories do you have of Schalke, of that two-legged UEFA Cup final and West’s goal?
“I remember that we should have won that final, but then things went the way they did and we were unlucky on penalties. So if we want to consider our next meeting as a sort of revenge match, let’s do that.”
Does the fact that you will play Schalke three days before the derby make things a bit easier for the AC Milan game, also knowing that you won’t have to take on a massive team three days after you play Milan?
“These players are used to playing difficult games one after another, so I don’t think they are really conditioned by that sort of thing. They know they will have to give everything in both fixtures, without saving themselves in one or the other.”
How do you see the derby against AC Milan going?
“At the moment we’re talking about Schalke; there’s time for the derby.”
How much would you really like to meet José Mourinho and Real Madrid in the final?
“I wouldn’t mind reaching the final and if Mourinho is there too, then great.”
Isn’t there a risk that you may be hampered a bit in the league having to worry about the Champions League as well?
“We’ll try not to let that happen and do well in all three competitions.”
Did you see what Mario Balotelli got up to in the Europa League match between Manchester City and Dynamo Kyiv?
“No, I didn’t see it and I’m not going to judge him, also because I’m sorry about it.”
Would you bring Andrea Pirlo back to Inter?
“Lots of years have passed since then but he’s still a great player – everyone knows that.”
So it appears to be unanimous with everyone at Inter that we got a very lucky draw but even so it won’t be easy progressing to the semis and it’s only going to get harder as no matter who we get in the semis or the final it’s going to be a very strong team and Inter need to be right on their best game for the rest of the season and who knows in a couple of months time we may yet again be celebrating a treble!