Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League by a magnificent Inter performance, capped off by a superb display by Wesley Sneijder and a 78th minute winner from Samuel Eto'o.
The main team news came from the visitors, with Jose Mourinho starting all three of his available attackers Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito and Goran Pandev, with Sneijder in close proximity. For Chelsea, Ross Turnbull was given the nod in goal as expected.
Inter created the first half-chance in the opening moments. Maicon squared the ball for Esteban Cambiasso, whose shot from 20 yards cannoned off a defender and landed for Samuel Eto’o, but his decision to take a touch before attempting to shoot was a costly one and he was dispossessed.
Florent Malouda tried to claim a penalty for Chelsea soon after as he advanced through the centre, but after knocking the ball past Lucio, the Frenchman had run straight into the Brazilian defender.
Inter went back on the attack, and Goran Pandev picked up the ball and played a neat cross to the marauding Maicon, who was in acres of space on Inter’s right, but after drawing Yuri Zhirkov, the right-back blasted high into the crowd at the near post.
Chelsea’s first real sighter came on 11 minutes, when Michael Ballack picked up the ball 20 yards out and drove a right footed cross-shot just wide of Julio Cesar’s goal.
Inter were awarded a free kick 20 yards from goal on the right after Frank Lampard made contact with Eto’o after more good work by Maicon had opened up Chelsea. Sneijder swung the set piece into a dangerous position, but Milito couldn’t get a head to the ball.
Moments later Lucio’s dangerously high foot caught Malouda, prompting a two-part showdown between the two sets of players. When the referee finally managed to calm the sides down, Didier Drogba belted the free kick straight into the wall.
Samuel Eto’o then picked up a yellow card when he protested against referee Wolfgang Stark’s decision to call Milito offside as he ran into space from the Cameroonian’s pass.
There was an opening for Chelsea when, from a cross from the right, Malouda flicked the ball on for Drogba, whose shot with the outside of his right boot was well blocked by Maicon, and Lampard skied the rebound.
The home side could have made more of a great opportunity in the 32nd minute. Nicolas Anelka made good progress down the right and fortuitously received the ball back from an attempted one-two, but his pull-back was a poor one and was easily cleared.
The Blues were almost made to pay in the cruelest of fashions when Inter attacked down the right through Maicon once more. The Brazilian’s cross was completely missed by John Terry, but Eto’o reacted too slowly to the chance and could only head the ball into the ground. It was the best opportunity of the game up to that point.
More good work down the right between Maicon and Eto’o created a half-chance for Diego Milito, but he was dispossessed by two defenders just as he was about to turn and shoot.
From the corner, Anelka broke well, but when he tried to bring his supporting team-mates into play, Cambiasso swept up superbly to send Inter forward again. The move resulted in a free kick from 35 yards out, which Sneijder fired straight at the wall.
A magnificent passing move by Chelsea seemed to have created the opening goal as Malouda ghosted through, but his fierce left-foot shot was brilliantly cut out by Walter Samuel’s amazing last-ditch diving challenge.
As chances started to come thick and fast for the Englishmen, Malouda chipped in from the left, there was confusion between Lucio and Samuel, and Anelka’s shot was saved by Julio Cesar, with the rebound coming off Thiago Motta and running for a corner to the home side.
From the resulting flag-kick, Samuel and Drogba ended up in a pile on the ground, but the Ivorian’s extensive protests fell on the deaf ears of referee Stark.
Samuel’s toe again came to the rescue for the Italians when Drogba’s chest down sent in Lampard, but the Argentine covered superbly to deny the England midfielder and keep the scores level at the break.
Chelsea started the second half as they’d ended the first, and after Thiago Motta was booked for bringing down Malouda, Drogba hit the target with a long range free kick, but there wasn’t enough pace in the shot to trouble Julio Cesar.
Inter should have had the lead, and a crucial away goal, after a magnificent ball from Sneijder found Eto’o in acres of space, but the off-form striker took an age as he bore down on Turnbull’s goal, allowing Zhirkov to get back and get a vital challenge in.
Another Drogba free kick looked set to hand Ballack a chance, but the ball skipped beyond the German, who in any case had started from an offside position.
Yellow cards were traded between Lucio and Malouda as the pace was ramped up and nerves appeared to be playing an increasingly huge part in the game. Didier Drogba was also booked for a challenge on Thiago Motta, though the Ivorian striker appeared to have been hard done by.
Goran Pandev so nearly broke the deadlock on 59 minutes when he raced onto Sneijder’s magnificent flick and closed to within 12 yards of goal, but just as he was about to strike left-footed, Zhirkov came in with a superb challenge. From the corner the ball broke for Milito, whose shot on the turn didn’t quite have the power to beat the well-positioned Turnbull.
Chelsea made the first change when Carlo Ancelotti replaced Ballack with Joe Cole. The England man immediately brought down Thiago Motta, allowing Sneijder to swing in another dangerous free kick, but again Inter were unable to capitalise.
Inter spawned another golden opportunity in the 65th minute. Having kept the ball brilliantly down the left for nearly a whole minute, they fashioned a marvellous chance when Sneijder sent Milito into space. But the Argentine, having drawn Turnbull, screwed the ball wide of the far post.
The failure to take chances will have frustrated Jose Mourniho, but, similarly, Ancelotti will have become concerned with the amount of space Inter were being able to find with regularity.
Again Inter created a great chance. Another magnificent Sneijder free kick from the right found Thiago Motta free at the far post, but he headed over the bar from a tight angle three yards out.
Carlo Ancelotti’s second roll of the dice was to bring on Salomon Kalou for Zhirkov in an attempt to make the Blues more potent down the left. Jose Mourinho responded by bringing Dejan Stanklovic on for Pandev for the final 15 minutes.
Kalou’s first act was almost a match-changing one, but after he’d cut inside two, his right-foot shot from 25 yards was an erratic one.
And with 12 minutes remaining, Inter finally got the goal they’d been threatening throughout the second period. Wesley Sneijder delivered a delightful left-foot through ball from his own half for Samuel Eto’o, who took two touches as he bore down on goal, kept his composure under Ivanovic’s challenge and hit a superb right foot finish beyond Ross Turnbull at the near post. The importance of the goal could not be overstated, as Chelsea’s body language told the whole story.
It was then all about seeing time out for the away side, and Sneijder was rightly given a standing ovation by the travelling support when he was replaced by McDonald Mariga with five minutes to play.
Chelsea were unable to mount any attacks of real note as they sought two goals just to take the tie into extra-time. And to make matters worse, they had Didier Drogba sent off with four minutes left on the clock when he tussled with Thiago Motta in the Inter area, throwing the Nerazzurri man to the ground.
Inter could have had a second in injury time when Eto’o got clear on the right, but his shot across Turnbull was magnificently stopped by the goalkeeper’s trailing foot.
But it couldn’t stop the Nerazzurri recording a memorable away win, and progressing to the last eight for the first time since 2006. Similarly, Chelsea failed to make the quarter-finals for the first time in four years.
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