BARCELONA (AFP) – Inter Milan reached the Champions League final on Wednesday, beating Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate in their semi-final despite losing the second leg 1-0 and playing an hour of the game with 10 men.
Jose Mourinho’s Inter, who won the first game 3-1 last week, will face Bayern Munich in the final on May 22 in Madrid.
Despite Gerard Pique’s 84th-minute goal, defending champions Barcelona were unable to find the crucial second goal as 10-man Inter held on, breathing a sigh of relief when Bojan Krkic had a stoppage-time effort chalked off for handball.
Inter will be playing in their first European Cup final since 1972 while Mourinho will attempt to lead the Italian giants to Europe’s most prestigious prize for the first time since 1965.
“It’s the greatest moment of my career,” said Mourinho. “For the players, me, the fans, it’s the greatest.
“It’s been 38 years since Inter played in the final. This is not a team of young players who can wait 15 years to make the final – they will not have another 10 opportunities to play in one.
“Against Barcelona, it’s difficult with 11 players but with 10, it’s an historic achievement to win like this. It’s the most beautiful defeat of my life.”
Mourinho once again out-thought his counterpart Pep Guardiola in a tense, tactical battle with the Italians having to survive an hour one player down following the first half dismissal of Thiago Motta.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta appealed to the fans to get behind the team in their darkest hour.
“Today, it was our turn to suffer the cruel side of football,” said Laporta.
“Now we must recover our morale for La Liga (where Barcelona are battling Real Madrid for the title). Now, more than ever, we have to support this team.”
Guardiola made two changes to his side from the first-leg, with Yaya Toure and Gabriel Milito replacing Maxwell and suspended captain Carles Puyol.
Gabriel’s selection on the opposing side to Diego Milito meant brothers were playing in the same Champions League match for the first time.
Mourinho kept faith with the team which won the first leg 3-1 last week.
Inter showed their game plan from the start as they sat back, an ominous task against a top side and particularly so with the attacking flair at Barça’s disposal.
After just three minutes Pedro came inside Maicon on the left wing but sent a wayward shot past the far post.
The Italians were doing their utmost to take the intensity out of the match delaying at set-plays and keeper Julio Cesar was shown a yellow card for repeatedly taking his time with goal kicks, but this only served to further raise the already electric atmosphere with the 90,000 Catalan fans whistling in frustration.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a shot from just six yards out but he was denied by a last ditch tackle from Walter Samuel and then Pedro drove a ball just past the post with Barça encamped on the edge of the Inter area.
The explosive atmosphere finally boiled over when Motta already with a yellow card for an earlier challenge swung an arm at Sergio Busquets, who was tugging at his shirt.
While Motta was furious with Busquets for what he saw as an over-reaction, the referee reached straight for the red card and Inter were left to battle with ten-men for the rest of the game.
The sending off did little to change the match as Inter continued to doggedly defy Barça and it was a telling statistic that at half time Inter had not had a single shot at goal.
Although not pleasing on the eye Inter were excelling at cutting out the threat from Barça.
Messi and Ibrahimovic were largely anonymous with the latter replaced by Bojan Krkic with half an hour to go.
Inter were growing into their job while Barça were resorting to shots from distance.
Dani Alves and Toure both tried their luck without going close and then the best chance fell to Bojan who headed wide from just a few yards.
The game appeared to be in control for Inter until Pique, now playing as an emergency centre-forward, turned in the box and tucked the ball into the corner leading to a grandstand finish.
Bojan thought he had won it but his superb finish in the third minute of injury time was ruled out for handball against Toure.