'A frankly embarrassing effort'
The Italian press reacts to Inter's Champions League defeat to Liverpool
The Internazionale owner Massimo Moratti has been quick to absolve his players of blame for last night's defeat to Liverpool, calling them "heroic" and saving his criticism for referee Frank de Bleeckere, who sent off Marco Materazzi for a second booking after half an hour. Most of this morning's Italian papers support his protests, but few were as forgiving of his team's performance. The reactions to yesterday's defeat range from stunned to scathing, and reporters are almost unanimous in pointing out that Inter were poor even on 11 men.
"This is Anfield, but this is not Inter," protests Alberto Cerruti in today's Gazzetta dello Sport. "Passive in the first 30 minutes, penalised for an hour by the harsh sending off of Materazzi and finally pierced in the last five minutes by the one-two strikes from Kuyt and Gerrard. Bitter but fair, because Mancini's team started badly and ended worse. Clinging to the alibi of the numerical disadvantage will not do, because the great Inter of the league cannot be so categorically outplayed by a Liverpool side that is anything but irresistible."
Corriere della Sera's Mario Sconcerti concurs. "Inter lost themselves in the Anfield atmosphere like a debutant in the Temple of Art," he says. "They didn't play, there wasn't a game, there wasn't a shot, they lacked personality and nerves. A frankly embarrassing effort when compared to the straightforward superiority Inter enjoy over every Italian opponent.
"Many, too many, players who we consider to be of a superior quality, displayed an inability to adapt to international competition that was totally unexpected," he continues before also seconding Cerutti's assessment of Rafael Benítez's side. "Liverpool played in the English style with players who weren't English. They pushed hard but their greatest show of élan was to cross the ball. It is not obligatory to beat them, but it is normal to play them at football. AC Milan play wherever they go, and they even lose at times - but they always play. They are a team for big international competition. Inter are still not."
La Repubblica's Gianni Mura was a little more forgiving, suggesting that Inter manager Roberto Mancini had got his tactics right at the outset, and that the sending off had changed the course of the game. "Liverpool deserved their victory (there was even a missed handball by Vieira in the area), but 2-0 was more than they deserved, even when you take into account that Inter weren't looking at their best when on 11 men," says Mura. "On 10 men it was a different game. Rafa Benítez had not worked out the starting formation, Mancini had: he was right to leave out Vieira. The sending off of Materazzi and above all the injury to (centre-back) Iván Córdoba caused the game to swing the way of Liverpool, who had approached the game with a lot of determination but little lucidity."
On the subject of Materazzi, few are more vociferous than Gazzetta's senior writer and former editor Candido Cannavò. "Materazzi should have got hold of a pair of angel wings and put them on before descending into the Anfield inferno," protests Candido in his page two column. "In footballing terms he is in the unenviable situation of a prejudged individual who cannot free himself from the infamy that accompanies him. If you are called Materazzi you truly need an angel's wings to avoid being hunted down by a Belgian referee who will not forgive you the tiniest mistaken movement."
Most columnists are sceptical of Inter's chances of rebounding in the second leg, but Gazzetta's Alessandro de Calò made the inevitable comparison with the two teams' only previous meeting. "Now, to reach the next round, the Nerazzurri need to repeat the historic recovery of 34 years ago: 3-0 at the San Siro after the 1-3 at Anfield. In the end that great Inter side won the European Cup. Now though they will need a huge effort, this tie is not finished: sometimes history allows a repeat."
If it is to happen, though, Inter will need a very different performance to that which they delivered last night. "In the return leg nobody can afford to let the side down again," adds Cerruti. "Starting with [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, who missed another opportunity to prove himself decisive in decisive games. He is the symbol of an Inter once again in difficulty in Europe."
Last word, though, goes to Sconcerti, speaking on behalf of all those who had expected more of an Inter side currently 11 points clear at the top of Serie A. "Today we have to say that we have all taken a step back," he says. "We who have always celebrated the Inter machine and those who believed they already understood it."
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