Eto'o hands Jose dream return to the bridge
Chelsea 0 Inter Milan 1
STILL the Special One. Still the king of Stamford Bridge. Still the tactical grand master. Jose Mourinho, Inter's inspiration, orchestrated Chelsea's first home defeat in the Champions League in 22 games, sending his old club crashing out of the competition that Carlo Ancelotti was so expensively brought in to win.
So, the mistake Roman Abramovich made in falling out with Mourinho in 2007 came back to haunt him. The Portuguese had hinted beforehand that he would not celebrate any Inter goal out of respect for his former employers, but he couldn't resist it.
Mourinho marked Samuel Eto'o's fine late strike with a few steps down the touchline before remembering his promise, heading back to the dug-out, still scarcely able to conceal his delight.
He knew Inter were superior in all departments: their defence was mobile defiance personified, their midfield a winning mix of passing and tackling while their four-man attack never gave Chelsea's back-line a moment's peace.
Sadly, shamefully, the game ended in even greater humiliation for Chelsea.
Didier Drogba, having tangled with Thiago Motta, who went down as if shot, was dismissed, echoing his embarrassing exit last season. Suddenly, it was England-Argentina as John Terry and Javier Zanetti exchanged unpleasantries.
As tempers flared all over the place, as Dejan Stankovic could have followed Drogba for a challenge on Alex, some of the Chelsea supporters around the away dug-out suggested exactly where they felt Mourinho should go. He headed for the tunnel, taking a famous, familiar scalp with him.
Mourinho had sprung a surprise, sending out his strong, athletic Inter side in 4-2-3-1 formation. His intentions had been clear: going for the jugular, going for the away goal with Samuel Eto'o, Wesley Sneijder and the left-sided Goran Pandev supporting Diego Milito.
In a tense match crammed with compelling duels, Inter started at top speed, looking to test Ross Turnbull, Chelsea's inexperienced, but promising 'keeper. Maicon, showing his ambitions with an early shot, enjoyed a buccaneering opening half down the right, but Chelsea never found their stride in the first half.
Florent Malouda wriggled into the box only to be thwarted. Michael Ballack, needing a big game but not delivering and removed on the hour, fired wide.
Nerves jangled like alarm bells. Chelsea, needing to score, knew they were in a real scrap, both physical and tactical.
With the stakes so high, tempers rose high as well. Lucio's foot was certainly high on Malouda. Eto'o then pushed Ballack. Eto'o was enraging Chelsea fans, partly with his angry hornet impression and partly with his play-acting. Such was the tumbling Cameroonian's eagerness to inspect the Stamford Bridge lawn closely, that an invitation to the Chelsea Flower Show surely awaits.
Eto'o was eventually booked for dissent and could have walked when, waving an imaginary card, attempted to get Alex cautioned. Inter's appliance of the dark arts and sciences was rampant at times, particularly at defending corners. Thiago Motta hauled down Branislav Ivanovic. Then Walter Samuel wrestled Didier Drogba over. So obvious, so outrageous, so ignored.
Sadly for Chelsea, the German referee, Wolfgang Stark, haughtily waved play on. It must have all been deeply confusing for Malouda as he ran in to deliver his corners; familiar faces kept disappearing in the box.
Frustration and fear ate away at Chelsea in the first half. Maicon again threatened, lifting a ball down the right for Eto'o to chase. John Terry, spotting the danger quickly, darted smartly across to clear. Sneijder's corners coaxed more sweatbeads from Chelsea foreheads.
Fortunately for the hosts, Drogba demonstrated his defensive power, repelling one of Sneijder's specials. Inter's Dutchman then crashed a free-kick into the wall after Alex had sneakily blocked off an Eto'o run.
Still Inter menaced. When Maicon hoisted in a great cross from the right, Terry misjudged its flight pattern, allowing it through to Eto'o. The miscalculations continued, Eto'o heading down and over.
Increasingly aware of time's unforgiving passage, Chelsea stepped up a gear, finishing the half promisingly. Alex swept a free-kick over. Nicolas Anelka began buzzing down the inside-right channel. Drogba started to break free of Lucio's shackles.
Mourinho was living every moment with his team, willing them to make every tackle, every header, every clearance. Some of Stark's decisions set the Special One off on the road to meltdown, Inter's coach remonstrating with the fourth official when Chelsea were ludicrously awarded a corner after the ball had come off Drogba.
Still Chelsea built. Still Inter blocked. Malouda teased the ball through, but was brilliantly dispossessed by Samuel, the obdurate centre-half aptly nicknamed The Wall. When Drogba then chipped a perfect pass on to the chest of Anelka, Samuel and Julio Cesar combined to slam shut any window of opportunity.
The half concluded with Lampard bursting through, losing possession but earning a tirade from Samuel, who accused the England international of diving. Nonsense.
Still the visitors' gamesmanship continued. Inter arrived late for the second half. When it did, Thiago Motta promptly body-checked Malouda. The ensuing free-kick was badly wasted by Drogba, whose 25-yarder dribbled through towards an untroubled Julio Cesar.
Lifting Chelsea's spirits, Malouda was beginning to influence proceedings.
After a brief moment of concern when Sneijder superbly released Eto'o and Turnbull rushed out to collect, Chelsea stormed through the gears, Malouda bringing a magnificent low save from Julio Cesar.
Brimming with intelligence and growing counter-attacking class, Inter should have wrapped the tie up midway through the second half. Zhirkov rescued Chelsea as Pandev was about to shoot. Then Sneijder seized on poor control by Terry to chip the ball over Chelsea's ragged defence. Milito ran through but placed his shot wide. Bad miss.
Inter had the edge, Chelsea the edginess. Sensing the hosts' apprehension, Mourinho's men broke time and again on the counter.
Some of their passing was immaculate, one pass from Esteban Cambiasso to Maicon was exquisite.
Ancelotti was ringing the changes, withdrawing the anonymous Ballack for Joe Cole and then sending on Salomon Kalou for Zhirkov.
Pushed forward, Chelsea were knocked out by a brilliant counter-punch. When Sneijder lifted a pass towards Eto'o, his response was majestic, the ball drilled right footed past Turnbull. Chelsea were devastated. Mourinho ruled the Bridge. Again. (© Daily Telegraph, London)