| Valencia goalkeeper Santiago Canizares fails to stop Inter Milan’s Christian Vieri (centre) from scoring during their Champions League quarter final second-leg match in Valencia Tuesday. Inter lost 1-2 (aggregate 2-2), but went through on away-goal rule. (Reuters)
London: Inter Milan and Juventus gave Italian soccer its pride back on Tuesday when they became the first Serie A teams to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League since 1999.
Marcelo Zalayeta was the extra-time hero for Juventus at Barcelona and Christian Vieri scored the vital goal for Inter Milan in Valencia as the Italians eliminated their Spanish opponents.
Juventus were reduced to ten men for the last 41 minutes and still snatched a 2-1 win for a 3-2 aggregate victory. Inter Milan squeezed through on the away goals rule after losing 1-2, with the tie ending 2-2 on aggregate.
The results ended a number of long-running records, wanted and unwanted.
Juventus’ win at the Nou Camp, thanks to substitute Zalayeta, was their first in 13 matches in Spain since their last win in 1970 when they beat Barcelona 2-1 in the old Fairs Cup competition.
The defeat was also Barcelona’s first at home in Europe since they lost to Real Madrid in the semi-finals a year ago, and their first in the Champions League in 16 matches this season — including the qualifying round.
Inter also broke a long unwanted record by ending a 22-year absence from the last four of Europe’s elite competition. They last reached these heights in 1981 when they lost in the European Cup semi-finals to Real Madrid.
Zalayeta, who came on at halftime for Marco di Vaio, scored in the 114th minute. Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved had given the Italian champions a 53rd-minute lead before Spanish international Xavi Hernandez equalised in the 61st.
Juventus had midfielder Edgar Davids ejected in the 79th minute.
“There was too much criticism last season and there was a spirit of revenge in Italy this year. We are delighted to have got past this big obstacle. We closed down space very well,” said Juventus coach Marcello Lippi.
“I am really pleased for Zalayeta — he scored a great goal that counts for so much.”
Nedved said afterwards: “This competition counts for so much for us and we gave our all tonight. In these matches if you want to win you have to play to your limits. It was a very tough game indeed.
“To win the Champions League is the ambition that I have had throughout my career,” said the Czech international.
In Valencia, Vieri’s second goal of the series and several outstanding saves by goalkeeper Francesco Toldo were key for Inter. Juan Pablo Aimar and Ruben Baraja scored for Valencia.
The move that led to Vieri’s goal started with a Valencia turnover at midfield. Inter forward Hernan Crespo intercepted the ball and launched it forward to Vieri. When defender Fabian Ayala failed to clear, Vieri took over and beat Valencia captain and ’keeper Santiago Canizares.
It was Vieri’s third Champions League goal this season and 27th overall, including his league-leading 24 goals in Serie A.
Vieri left the pitch in the 32nd minute after taking a knock on the right knee. Inter Milan’s official website said it is a “suspected sprain to the internal collateral ligament.”
A full evaluation will be made in a few days but if ligament damage is confirmed, Vieri could face a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Inter coach Hector Cuper said: “It seems quite serious. It is hard to say for sure at the moment, but it seems serious”.
Aimar quickly countered for Valencia two minutes later. The Argentine received a lateral pass from John Carew and took the ball through Inter’s disorganised defence.
After numerous other chances spurned by Valencia — and the Toldo saves — Baraja found the net again on a diving header in the 51st, giving hope to the raucous, capacity crowd of 45,000 at Mestalla Stadium.
In first-half injury time, Toldo made three spectacular saves on one continuous action. In the 90th, Valencia striker Juan Sanchez blasted a potential series-winning goal just wide.
“If everyone played like Inter, fans would disappear from the stadiums,” Valencia coach Rafael Benitez said. “We played so much better that it seems unfair that we are not going into the semi-finals.”
The result means Inter coach Cuper got the best of his former club. He had guided Valencia to the Champions Cup final in 2000 and 2001 before leaving for Italy.