Big bird soars as Inter rise to Chelsea challenge

Lucio is the only central defender available to Jose Mourinho this weekend – but by the way the Brazilian took on the Chelsea front line and anyone else who ventured near Inter’s penalty area, he can perform the job alone at Udinese.

We may not have reached the final bell in the Lucio-Drogba bout but there's no doubt which of these heavyweights is winning on points.

Lucio is a funny bird; he has the look of some exotic creature, what with that long jutting neck, tapered head and heavy-set eyes. Or maybe that's a caricature of the player in the warped imagination of Serie Aaaaargh!

But the lanky defender undoubtedly soars all over the pitch and can seem to be everywhere at once – as was the case last night.

NEWS, Wed Feb 24: Inter edge Chelsea in last-16 opener

One moment he was making last-ditch challenges, then surging out of defence to distribute the ball upfield and most importantly thwarting Chelsea’s attack at every turn – although he would have been pleased to have seen Nicolas Anelka a mere pedestrian.

So he took on the forceful Drogba, who was muscled out of possession on just about every occasion – and when Lucio got his body between the ball and his opponent he was not averse to falling over for a free kick.

"Out, sir!" – Lucio does his job

Such minor gamesmanship and physicality was carried out with little regard for picking up a yellow card which would have ruled him out of the Stamford Bridge showdown.

Arriving at a club full of Spanish-speaking South Americans, the Big Bird soon found out where he stood in the pecking order.

Being an athlete of God, he was all set to lead a prayer meeting in the centre of the pitch after the first derby, but il comandante Javier Zanetti and his lieutenant Esteban Cambiasso broke up any evangelistic fervour before it could take hold within the Catholic confines of the dressing room.

Since then the 31-year-old has kept his personal beliefs away from the action and, apart from a couple of headless-chicken runs, has been a solid rock on the big occasions.

And it's a finally a pleasure, if not a relief, to report on an Italian side lifting their game in Europe once again. It was Inter's first win in the knock-out stages since they defeated Villarreal back in March 2006 – and it was good to see Mourinho taking a bold approach when Cambiasso put them back in the lead.

Away from the over-familiarity of Serie A’s rough and tumble, the players revelled in facing opponents whose prime mission was to keep the ball moving and not to break up play at every turn.

Samuel and Kalou come together

Mario Balotelli came on for the last 30 minutes and it was probably the teenager’s most positive outing of the season as he was allowed to remain on his feet and never felt the need to go looking for a foul.

Chelsea’s refreshingly open approach has to be applauded and their stoic reaction to what seemed a stonewall penalty on Salomon Kalou left everyone just as stunned – as if a Martian spaceship had suddenly landed in the centre-circle at the San Siro.

NEWS, Wed Feb 24: Ancelotti – Chelsea should have had penalty 

However, the only thing out of this world was that gangly being at the back – and given the right environment such as last night, Italian football can express itself just as well as the rest of Europe.

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