Inter, Porto prepare for Champions League

Internazionale's training ground was shrouded in a blanket of mist as the players gathered ahead of the Champions League Group H clash against Porto.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:53 IST
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Internazionale's training ground was shrouded in a blanket of mist on Monday as the players gathered ahead of the Champions League Group H clash against Porto. If there was an eerie silence about the ground - appropriately enough on Halloween - the Inter players might be advised to get accustomed to it. Roberto Mancini's side will be playing in an empty stadium on Tuesday night - their third match of a four-match ban following the suspension of their Champions League quarter-final against AC Milan last season, when a fan threw a flare which hit Milan goalkeeper Dida. Inter, though, haven't suffered too much so far in games played behind closed doors. They lead Group H with six points, after winning both their home games. But they lost 2-0 in Porto a fortnight ago, and are currently struggling in Serie A. A 2-2 draw against Sampdoria on Saturday left them eight points behind leaders Juventus, and with hopes of a first title since 1989 fading fast. Adriano, meanwhile, is short of fitness. The Brazilian striker sat out the opening hour of the first game against Porto after returning late from World Cup qualifying with Brazil. He then suffered a shoulder injury and reported late to practice last week, prompting a meeting with club president Giacinto Facchetti. Inter, then, could do with a morale-boosting win to put them within touching distance of qualification for the knock-out stage. And captain Javier Zanetti is hopeful that the side can perform well. "I am sorry to see the San Siro stadium empty. But we have to adapt, and we still want to play a great match out there," he said. Coach Roberto Mancini is confident that the players will be able to bounce back after the defeat in Oporto a fortnight ago. "We know that Porto are a great team, and it will be a difficult match. We were unlucky in Porto because we conceded two own-goals, and in these cases it's legitimate to talk about bad luck. We had our own chances but we did not score. So it will be a difficult match, but Inter can beat Porto. That is for sure," said Mancini. Porto's win over Inter two weeks ago restored their hopes of advancing after defeats against both Glasgow Rangers and Group H minnows Artmedia. Not having to deal with a partisan home crowd should in theory make their task slightly easier. But Porto have shown erratic form under Dutch coach Co Adriaanse, and fans once again jeered the team after they were held to a goalless draw by lowly Vitoria Setubal at home last weekend in the Portuguese league. That performance highlighted Porto's strengths and weaknesses - a watertight defence, which hasn't let in a goal for four matches, and a misfiring attack, for which left-back Cesar Peixoto is top scorer with three goals. On whether the lack of home support will prove to be a benefit, or a hindrance, to Porto's chances, Adriaanse is unsure. "Normally it's a disadvantage for Inter. But in this situation it can also be an advantage for Inter. But it depends on the mood of the supporters, and I don't know the attitude of the supporters here in Milan," said Co Adriaanse, Porto coach. Adriaanse admits that he would be happy to return to Portugal with a draw. But the Porto coach claims that to play for just a point would run counter to his team's attacking instincts. "It would be a great result for us, to make a draw. But we are not going to play to make a draw. I think we have a very attacking team. The philosophy of Porto, and also of mine, is to attack and to win, to play to win, and not to lose. We are playing to make goals and to win," said Co Adriaanse. Adriaanse has recalled Diego for Tuesday's game, the Brazilian playmaker having been dropped last weekend for the game in the Portuguese League. And Argentine winger Lisandro Lopez may make his Champions League debut after recovering from an ankle injury. South African striker Benni McCarthy has yet to find his goalscoring touch this season. So Adriaanse will be looking to star striker Ricardo Quaresma to provide the threat up front - Quaresma's form for Porto has been enough to earn him a call-up to the national squad. It must be said, however, that the omens are not good for the 2004 Champions League winners. In last year's competition, their reign as champions was ended by Inter in the Round of 16 - a 3-1 defeat in Milan followed by a 1-1 draw in Oporto. This time around, Porto would be delighted with anything other than defeat, to keep their slim hopes of Group H survival alive. (AP)