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Champions League Preview: Inter – Rubin Kazan

Kick-Off: Wednesday, December 9, 2009. 20:45 CET
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan

Crunch Time


Much has been made of Inter’s inability to transfer their domestic form in Serie A onto the European stage. In over 12 months of football, Jose Mourinho’s Nerazzurri have registered just a solitary win at the top level of continental club football, and such a poor record has sparked murmurings in the Italian press that group stage elimination could see the mercurial tactician sent forth from the club.

All of the last four Italian championships have been awarded to the Beneamata, the latest of which was claimed under Mourinho’s stewardship, and the Milanese giants again lead the way in the domestic game, though defeat at Juventus on Saturday evening has seen their lead slashed to four points.

Inter enjoy something of a safety net in Serie A at present, but they have afforded themselves no such luxury in the Champions League, the competition that they really crave to win. The 1965 European Cup winners have only a marginal advantage over midweek opponents Rubin Kazan, while fourth placed Dynamo Kiev are just one point further back.

Only a win will ensure Inter their place in the last 16, and Mourinho’s side will have to show all of their trademark efficiency and will to edge out their Russian opponents, who were a vastly under-rated side going into this competition.

Striker Samuel Eto’o has indicated that his side need to be going at full tilt in order to guarantee themselves qualification, telling fcinternews.it, “"On Wednesday we must play a great match with each of us contributing to win and advance to the next stage.”

Defeat in Barcelona a fortnight ago illustrated just how far behind the very elite Inter are when they are not playing at their top level, though they undoubtedly have the personnel to concern any side.

Dark Horses


While Inter will feel like they are walking a tightrope on Wednesday evening, visitors Rubin Kazan will travel to the San Siro believing that they have nothing to lose when they tackle the illustrious Italians. Already their Champions League campaign will be storied for many years to come, after all, they did beat reigning title holders Barcelona away from home.

That performance should serve as a warning shot to Inter, who cannot afford to treat their opponents with a pinch of salt. Indeed, it was the Russian side who came out with most of the credit following the 1-1 draw in Tatarstan in Matchday 2. Alejandro Dominguez, who will play his last game for the Premier Liga champions on Wednesday, had the home team ahead after 11 minutes, and though Dejan Stankovic promptly equalised for the Nerazzurri, Mourinho’s men were left to repel an onslaught after Mario Balotelli was dismissed.

A fortnight ago Rubin had a golden opportunity to take a giant stride forward to the last 16 when they hosted Dynamo Kiev. Victory would have at least taken Kurban Berdyev’s side to the very cusp of the last 16. They lacked self-assurance, however, and nervously muddled their way to a tame 0-0 draw, in which Dominguez’s spectacular bicycle kick just before half-time was by some distance the highlight.

Perhaps the pressure of an expectant home crowd got to them on that freezing evening, but another such tepid showing will only result in a simple Inter victory.

FORM GUIDE

Inter


LOST 2-1 (a) Juventus (Serie A, December 5)

WON 1-0 (h) Fiorentina (Serie A, November 29)

LOST 2-0 (a) Barcelona (Champions League, November 24)

WON 3-1 (a) Bologna (Serie A, November 21)

DREW 1-1 (h) Roma (Serie A, November 8)

Rubin


WON 3-0 (a) Kuban (Premier Liga, November 29)

DREW 0-0 (h) Dynamo Kiev (Champions League, November 24)

DREW 0-0 (h) Zenit St. Petersburg (Premier Liga, November 21)

WON 2-0 (a) CSKA Moscow (Premier Liga, November 8)

DREW 0-0 (h) Barcelona (Champions League, November 4)

TEAM NEWS

Inter


Jose Mourinho only has a couple of issues to cope with ahead of this tie. Young defender Davide Santon has been forced to undergo surgery on a knee injury and will not play again until 2010, while infrequently used winger Ricardo Quaresma is also receiving treatment at the present time.

Cristian Chivu is banned after picking up three yellow cards, while Walter Samuel, Maicon and Javier Zanetti all walk a disciplinary tightrope.

Wesley Sneijder has been strongly tipped to start. Inter have yet to lose a game with him on the field.

Probable Starting XI: Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Zanetti; Motta, Cambiasso, Stankovic; Sneijder; Milito, Eto'o

Rubin


Regular forward Aleksandr Bukharov is out after undergoing wrist surgery recently. The initial problem was sustained against Khimki on October 17, but attempts to play with a cast failed. He is expected to miss around a month.

Veteran centre-back Roman Sharonov is the club’s other injury issue. He had previously featured in all five Champions League encounters played by the Russians this season.

Rubin will be well rested as their domestic term finished at the end of November.

Probable Starting XI:
Ryzhikov; Kaleshin, Salukvadze, Cesar Navas, Ansaldi; Karadeniz, Semak, Murawski, Noboa, Ryazantsev; Dominguez

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Inter


Mirroring the performances of his side, Samuel Eto’o has yet to really fire in Europe. He was signed as a big game player from Barcelona last summer and it is in fixtures such as Wednesday’s in which he will be expected to make a telling contribution. The Cameroon ace grabbed a goal at the weekend against Juve, and he could be the man to make the difference against the Russians, despite being outshone by strike partner Diego Milito in the early part of the campaign.

Rubin


It is an obvious choice, but Alejandro Dominguez is the real class act of the Rubin side. A player blessed with great offensive ability, it has been his performances more than anything that have caught the eye in the Russians’ fine charge towards the knock-out phase. His contract at the club expires at the end of the year, and he seems poised to depart. Having already written his name in the history books of the side, he would surely become a legend if he made a telling contribution at the San Siro.

PREDICTION


Though Rubin have been underestimated in many quarters, they will not have the power or experience to overcome Inter. Mourinho is an expert at getting his sides to do just enough, and though they will likely be stretched, there will be no shocks as the Nerazzurri march on into the last 16, ego bruised but life in tact.

Inter 1-0 Rubin Kazan


Robin Bairner, Goal.com