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Inter Milan 2 Chelsea 1: match report

Chelsea felt the painful heat of an old flame last night. Jose Mourinho masterminded a first-leg victory over his former team last night, although Chelsea returned home hoping that Salomon Kalou’s away goal proves the special one.

Kalou’s deserved strike came between goals from Diego Milito and Esteban Cambiasso in a fabulous game full of sweeping moves. All the talk of a cagey first leg, of caution and congestion reigning, disappeared in a blur of black-and-blue movement on the pitch and plumes of smoke on the terraces.

Even before Milito’s third-minute intervention, San Siro was shaking in its deep foundations, following the fans’ mass pogo in the build-up to a first whistle that only the referee and perhaps a couple of players could possibly have heard. The noise never ebbed.

No wonder. Two good teams went for glory, the pacesetters of Serie A and the Premier League laying on a magical spectacle, staging a sporting opera fit for La Scala of Italian football. A crowd of 78,971 relished this football of the old school, of the schoolyard even: you attack, we attack.

Overlapping left-backs set the buccaneering tone. Florent Malouda, reprising a role he first fulfilled for Lyons against Mourinho’s Porto six years ago, kept storming forward. The peerless, ageless Javier Zanetti, ostensibly in defence for Inter, similarly spent much of the match in his opponents’ back-yard.

No quarter was asked, nor given. Didier Drogba became embroiled in a lengthy scrap with Walter Samuel, one of those rugged Argentine defenders who could get a yellow card practising the Tango. Challenges flew in all over, Thiago Motta cautioned for a foot up on Michael Ballack that was almost a yard up.

Despite losing, Chelsea played well. The stats revealed that. Carlo Ancelotti’s players recorded eight shots on target to three by Mourinho’s.

Chelsea forced three corners to the hosts’ none, even enjoying 56 per cent possession. But Inter had a goalkeeper in Julio Cesar, who was athletic defiance personified. For a man who had just crashed his Lamborghini, the Brazilian performed with commendable sangfroid. He made only one mistake.

The fuse for a classic encounter was lit by Inter, stunning Chelsea with the speed and menace of their first surge. It was a lightning strike in every sense, Mourinho’s men racing down the inside-left channel, the ball flowing from Zanetti to Thiago Motta to Samuel Eto’o. When Wesley Sneijder dummied, the ball continued merrily towards Milito, whose eluding of John Terry was masterful. An Argentinian called Diego artfully dodging an England defender in World Cup year? We’ve been here before.

Shifting weight from left foot to right, Milito expertly sent Terry the wrong way, fashioning a yard of space before finding the gap between Petr Cech and the keeper’s right-hand upright. Only one person with Inter connections failed to celebrate. Mourinho sat motionless in the home dug-out, his face as unyielding as a slab of the local granite. Respect for his former players? Possibly. He also bore the look of somebody who felt he had scripted this.

San Siro dissolved in delight, particularly when the cameras panned onto the vexed features of Ancelotti, formerly of AC Milan. Another past steward of Rossoneri fortunes, Fabio Capello, who had jetted in from Johannesburg, cannot have been impressed by the way Terry was caught out.

Terry rallied his team, Frank Lampard began motoring forward, Malouda was ceaseless in his movement upfield while Nicolas Anelka shuttled busily between midfield and the front. Chelsea refused to be daunted by the scoreline or the setting. Drogba unleashed a thunderous free-kick that almost splintered the Inter crossbar. Julio Cesar clutched a Drogba shot and a Ballack drive.

The game kept sweeping from end to end, Milito soon booked for diving. Back came Chelsea, Drogba volleying wide. Back came Inter. This was mesmerising, Lucio, playing the pass of the night, an off-balance, crossfield ball, found Sneijder in space on the left. Inter’s No 10 drilled in a cross that deserved far better than a fluffed response from Eto.

Sadly, a wonderful half finished in controversy. Kalou was clearly brought down by Samuel but Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez ludicrously waved play on. The Spanish referee who oversaw Ancelotti’s worst moment in management, the 2005 Champions League final defeat to Liverpool, had frustrated him again.

“It looked like a penalty,’’ observed Ray Wilkins, Ancelotti’s assistant, rarely a man given to stoking the fires of controversy. Justice was done six minutes into the second period, Chelsea deservedly equalising.

How fitting that it should be Kalou swooping, having been so cruelly denied by Mejuto Gonzalez.

How appropriate that the goal should be created by a rampaging full-back, reflecting the gung-ho approach of both sides. Branislav Ivanovic charged 50 yards, eventually slipping but managing to slide the ball to Kalou as he fell. The Ivory Coast international, vindicating Ancelotti’s decision to omit the off-key Joe Cole, met the ball first time, driving it past Julio Cesar. For once, the Brazilian faltered, although he saw the deflected shot late.

Inter shrugged off the mishap, showing their resilience and class under Mourinho, reclaiming the lead within four minutes. Sneijder, who has become such a force under Mourinho, made the goal, lifting in a cross from the left. Ricardo Carvalho managed to head the danger clear but only to Cambiasso, whose first shot hit Terry. His second was deadly, the ball speeding past Cech.

Chelsea’s keeper then fell awkwardly catching a cross, departing on a stretcher to the sympathetic, sporting applause of the home tifosi. At the final whistle, Inter fans celebrated as if they had reached the last eight. Chelsea will have other ideas at the Bridge. It’s too close to call.

© Telegraph.co.uk