On Champions League Tuesday evening at the San Siro, FC Schalke 04 did something unimagined by most fans, defeating holders Inter Milan 5-2 in the first leg of their quarterfinal series. Schalke, mired in the Bundesliga midtable and having just undergone a coaching switch as Felix Magath was replaced by Ralf Rangnick, seemed to have little chance against an Inter squad that roared back to eliminate Bayern Munich in the last round. Additionally, Inter now had Diego Milito back and would not be complacent after losing the Milan derby this past weekend.
As if justifying many fans’s lack of faith in Schalke, they gave up a goal in the first minute to Inter’s Dejan Stankovic. Stankovic’s outstanding goal seemed to indicate that Schalke’s chances were beyond even the intercession of the saints. Schalke’s Joel Matip equalized in the 17th minute to give the Royal Blues a glimmer of hope, but in the 34th minute Inter gained the lead againon a Diego Milito goal, and it seemed as if Schalke’s day was over. Probably only the staunchest Die Knappen supporters could see any light at the end of today’s tunnel, and consoled themselves that at least Schalke gained an important away goal.
But Edu saw things differently. The Schalke midfielder left-footed a shot from the right of the side of the box in the 40th minute to beat Cesar and tie the score. The two teams went into intermission with two goals apiece.
Neuer and Raul
Inter Milan came out of the dressing room en fuego and looked to take the game as they dominated early 2nd half play. Diego Milito barely missed what appeared to be a sitter and Neuer made a huge one-handed stop of an Eto’o attempt as Inter looked sure to break the tie.
But despite Schalke’s mediocre Bundesliga form this season, we tend to forget that they not only have Manuel Neuer in goal but also the iconic and determined Raul. The Spainard turned the game on its head by scoring in the 63rd minute from an assist by Jefferson Farfan, who had a quiet first half. Suddenly, those of us rooting for Schalke had reason to hope. Four minutes afterwards, an own goal by Inter’s Andrea Ranocchia upped Schalke’s lead to 4-2, and five minutes after that a second yellow card to Chivu left Inter down to 10 men and two goals behind. Hope turned to belief for those of us who had doubted.
Ralf Rangnick’s men saw out the remaining half hour in style, with Edu claiming a brace as he scored in the 75th minute against an Inter side that looked totally demoralized. Now, in this totally inexplicable season, 11th place Schalke will host Inter Milan on Wednesday, April 13 with a 5-2 aggregate lead and a stunning 5 away goals !!! Unbelievable.
After seeing Inter Milan reverse fortunes and eliminate Bayern Munich from the Champions League last month, I surely will not accept as inevitable Schalke’s chances of obtaining the Champions League semifinals. But I sure like their odds. With the ageless and classy Raul and a keeper as heroic as Manuel Neuer, great things are always possible. Congratulations to the Royal Blues on a splendid victory, and also for making Germany’s acquisition of a fourth Champions League spot at Italy’s expense appear well-earned. Forgive us that doubted you.
Inter Lineup: Cesar, Chivu, Ranocchia, Zanetti, Maicon, Motta, Sneijder, Cambiasso, Stankovic, Eto’o, Milito Subs Used: Kharjia 24′ (for Stankovic), Cordoba 63′(for Kharja), Nagatomo 76′ (for Motta)
Schalke Lineup: Neuer, Matip, Howedes, Sarpei, Uchida, Jurado, Papadopoulos, Baumjohann, Farfan, Edu, Raul Subs Used: Schmitz 77′ (for Baumjohann), Draxler 83′ (for Jurado), Karimi 88′ (for Raul)