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Barcelona 1 – 0 Inter Milan (agg 2 – 3)

By NBF NEWS
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Jose Mourinho, left, celebrates with Inter Milan team manager Gabriele Oriali

By Sam Lyon
Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan produced a defensive masterclass to reach the Champions League final at the expense of holders Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

Protecting a first-leg 3-1 lead, Inter were forced to play more than an hour a man short after Thiago Motta saw red for a hand-off on Sergio Busquets.

But Barca failed to fire before Gerard Pique's shot set up a frantic finale.

Bojan Krkic then saw an injury-time strike ruled out, but Inter held on for a first European Cup final since 1972.

The Italian giants will now face Bayern Munich at the Bernabeu on 22 May as Mourinho attempts to lead them to European football's top prize for the first time in more than 40 years.

Barcelona's efforts to become the first team to retain the Champions League trophy, meanwhile, ended in frustration in the face of a sensationally stoic defensive show from the Italians.

Mourinho's reaction at the final whistle said it all as he sprinted around the Nou Camp pitch with his hands aloft, a pointed salute to the Barca supporters and media critics who had labelled him “The Translator” in mocking tribute to his time at the club in the 1990s.

This was further testimony to the Portuguese manager's claims to be “The Special One” as his side's tactics, belief and resolve withstood a home onslaught that saw Barca run out of ideas until Pique's goal.

Emotions and tensions were expected before kick-off to run high, but even for a Champions League semi-final this match surpassed expectations. 606: DEBATE

Mourinho is the best tactician around, he showed to other teams how to stop this Barca machine

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An extraordinarily vocal 98,000 Nou Camp played their part, while Mourinho – so often the pantomime villain – riled the Barcelona faithful and staff alike as a constant and vocal presence on the sidelines.

But, more than that, controversy stalked the match regularly, even before Bojan's late strike was ruled out.

The replacement of winger Goran Pandev – apparently injured – with defender Christian Chivu in the Inter line-up minutes before kick-off caught everyone by surprise, while the visitors' high-pressure tactics and gamesmanship continually frustrated the hosts.

And the decision of Belgian referee Frank de Bleeckere to dismiss Motta was even more contestable.

The Brazilian, already on a booking, did indeed raise a hand when defending the ball and he certainly made contact with Busquets' face as he did so, but a straight red card appeared a harsh decision.

Motta's reaction following the dismissal, man-handling Busquets in protest, only fanned the flames of a high-octane encounter.

Amid all of the drama, the football was enthralling, if a little light on goalscoring chances.

The pattern was set early on, with Inter happy to sit deep and flood their defensive areas in protection of their first-leg lead, while the hosts' passing game was typically fluent but all too often in front of the visitors rather than in behind them.

Twice Xavi had a sight of goal but the midfielder was crowded out on both occasions, Pedro flashed an instinctive volley wide from Dani Alves' cross, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a snap-shot well blocked by Walter Samuel.

Motta reacts to his sending-off by man-handling Busquets

The best effort of the first half by far, though, came from Messi, the Argentine's goalbound curler from 20 yards superbly tipped wide on the stretch by Inter keeper Julio Cesar.

This was a classic match-up of Inter's defence against Barca's attack, though Mourinho's side did have a brief glimpse of goal when Samuel Eto'o found himself in space in the box from Wesley Sneider's cross, only for his touch to allow Pedro to get back and clear.

The second period was even more one-sided in terms of possession, with almost the entire half played in Inter's defensive third.

But Inter looking increasingly comfortable as the likes of Messi, Pedro, Ibrahimovic and Xavi probed at their defence without success, though Bojan should have done better when he headed wide from close range.

Still, with six minutes of normal time remaining, Barcelona broke the Italians' backline for virtually the first time as Pique, arguably offside, collected Xavi's pass, turned inside defender Ivan Cordoba's challenge and slid home for a goal of which Messi himself would have been proud.

And for the first time in the match, Barcelona sensed victory.

They almost had it too when substitute Bojan broke free in the Inter box and lashed into the roof of the net in injury time.

The home supporters' unbridled joy at what would have proven a tie-winning goal was short-lived, though, as the referee had given a handball against Yaya Toure in the build-up long before.

It was a contentious decision, in keeping with some strange rulings from the officials throughout the night.

However, Inter will argue they deserved their slice of luck, and the match-up of Mourinho against Bayern boss Louis van Gaal, one of the men under whom he served his apprenticeship at Barca, provides a fascinating back-drop to what will be an hotly-contested final next month.