What the approximately 80,000 spectators who will fill the stands at the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium, tonight (8pm), will take as a guide for the Champions League round of 16 match between Inter Milan and FC Porto, is something like this: a game between two teams that are going through a good moment, that occupy the second place in the domestic championship and that are guided by former companions of the days of Lazio. The “dragons”, who have been doing well with the airs of Italy in recent years, will try to break the record of “nerazzurri”, who have never lost at home to Portuguese opponents in Europe.
“We know Inter’s quality, but we also know ours. We are used to these stages. We cannot forget that we represent a historic club like FC Porto. I’m not a virgin in these wanderings, like some of my players. We prepared the game in detail”, pointed out Sérgio Conceição, in a press conference, promising an aggressive and always alive team. “We cannot escape who we are. We go after the detail that can be decisive”.
The FC Porto coach has reasons for moderate confidence. Although globally the balance of the “blue and whites” against Italian teams in UEFA competitions is unfavorable (11 wins, 10 draws and 15 defeats), the most recent records are, on the contrary, encouraging. Last season, the “dragons” won and drew with Milan in the group stage, after in 2018-19 and in 2020-21 they had beaten Roma and Juventus.
Apart from the emotional boost, these clashes will contribute little to today’s game, but the moment in form that FC Porto is going through is perhaps a more reliable indicator. He built a cycle of 22 games without defeat (the last one was against Benfica, on October 21) and won the last 10, with only two goals conceded and 22 scored. And it did so in a context of increased difficulties, especially in recent weeks, with major casualties — in quality and quantity.
That is, moreover, the great unknown that the “dragons” will extend until the time of the game. In the delegation to Milan, Otávio, Evanilson, Uribe and Galeno traveled, nuclear elements who have been physically limited, which opens the door to a possible return to normality. In any case, it is an equation that will always leave the opponent in doubt.
On Inter’s side, by the way, they also exist, and the greatest of all lies in the attack. So far, in European competitions, Simone Inzaghi has opted for the duo Edin Dzeko/Lautaro Martínez in front of the usual 3x5x2 that he idealized, but the less exuberant phase of the Bosnian and the increase in performance of Romelu Lukaku could open the doors of title to the Belgian.
The Italian coach does not open the game in this regard and extends the question marks to the other sectors. “There are doubts not only in attack, but also in midfield and defence. The coach’s role is to choose an ‘eleven’ based on what is best for the team”, he stressed, at the press conference, showing total confidence in a squad that managed to push Barcelona to the Europa League and occupy, along with Bayern Munich, one of the qualifying places for Group C.
This Inter, too erratic at the beginning of the season, is now experiencing a period of greater stability, which has resulted in a defeat in just the last 13 games, a cycle that has included two victories over rival AC Milan (one counting for the Super Cup) and a triumph over Serie A leaders Napoli (the only Neapolitan side in the competition to date). And if it is true that, like FC Porto, it occupies second place in the championship, it is also true that the 15 points away from the first have little to do with the five that separate the current champion from the leader of the Portuguese League.
Gone are the days when winger Sérgio Conceição and striker Simone Inzaghi cohabited in the Lazio squad, in 1999-00. And the time when FC Porto and Inter crossed paths in the Champions League is also long gone: it was in 2004-05 and the Italians won, with a draw in Portugal and a triumph in Italy. Now, it’s time to write a new chapter.