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Champions League Comment: Jose Mourinho's Imposing Inter Make It Look Easy Against CSKA Moscow

For the first time in seven years, Inter will participate in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Wesley Sneijder’s early free kick gave them victory in Moscow in a game that was marked by complete authority and dominance by the Italian champions, making a mockery of the problems they have had with the competition over recent years. After last season’s impotent elimination at the hands of Manchester United, Inter have produced a riposte that has all the self-assurance of their Portuguese coach.

The Nerazzurri’s opening set the tone: pressing CSKA hard in their own third - forcing the Russians into rushed clearances and uncharacteristic mistakes in possession. Such suffocating pressure was enough to leave Keisuke Honda breathless, with the Japanese international meekly surrendering possession 25 metres from his own goal on six minutes. Sergei Ignashevich brought down the assailant, Goran Pandev, and Wesley Sneijder smashed the resulting free kick under the wall, past a partially culpable Igor Akinfeev.

Inter immediately loosened the vice, but looked no less comfortable than they had in the opening exchanges. CSKA’s coach, Leonid Slutsky, took just eight more minutes before deciding to try and artificially induce a response from his side, withdrawing Vasili Berezutsky, and replacing him with the Nigerian, Chidi Odiah. The full-back’s attacking thrust from right back gave the hosts more dynamism going forwards, frequently overlapping Pavel Mamaev, who naturally drifted infield. The substitution also resulted in a change of system: the precocious - but out of form - Alan Dzagoev pushing up to support Tomas Necid as CSKA’s 4-2-3-1 morphed into a 4-4-2. Inter’s supremacy was, however, unrelenting.

Early Boost|
Sneijder's Goal Ended CSKA Interest

Slutsky’s half-time words were only four minutes old when an over-zealous Odiah effectively ended the tie. Already on a booking following a late challenge on Sneijder in the first period, Odiah’s lunge on Samuel Eto’o was so late that he not only missed the ball, but also nearly missed the Cameroonian as he slid across the artificial turf. Referee Stephane Lannoy had little option but to give the substitute a one-way ticket back to the dressing room. - Slutsky offering his player a somewhat generous handshake as he trudged off.

If three goals at 11 versus 11 was improbable for the Russians, then three goals at 10 versus 11 was virtually impossible. Inter’s dominance was imperious, allowing their opponents to have possession in the middle of the field, before dispossessing them and stretching the game on the break thanks to the pace of Diego Milito, Eto’o and Pandev. The more CSKA probed, the more stretched their ten men became as their eagerness to commit players into the attacking third left them increasingly vulnerable.

Slutsky stayed bold and kept two up front, replacing the anonymous Necid with Guilherme, but the Russians’ lack of tempo and enterprise in the final third was compounded by the efficiency of Inter’s defending. Milito had two golden opportunities to seal the game, and Akinfeev was also tested by Sneijder and Dejan Stankovic. But a second goal simply wasn’t necessary, as Inter cruised over the finish line.

The Milan daily il Giornale gushed after Inter’s supreme win at Chelsea in the last round that Mourinho had "passed from being a great storyteller to a great manager". If his side continue to perform in such assured fashion on the European scene, Mourinho will be hoping that his side’s Champions League run continues so that those storytelling skills can be put into good use in years to come.

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