Inter triumph silences Serie A sceptics

MILAN - Inter Milan's dominant Champions League last-16 win over Chelsea showed the death of Italian football was greatly exaggerated even if huge problems remain.

Serie A still risks losing its fourth Champions League qualifying place to Germany from 2011 depending on results in the rest of the season but some of the gloom which descended has quickly been lifted by the success of Jose Mourinho's team.

The Italian champions and league leaders, who held a 2-1 first leg advantage, battled bravely to win 1-0 at Mourinho's former club on Tuesday and seal a famous 3-1 aggregate victory.

NEWS: Inter do Italian job at Chelsea

FEATURE: The two players with whom Mourinho destroyed Chelsea

"It's a great moment for the team, a great moment for Inter, for all the players who year after year had problems overcoming this barrier of the last 16, and now they have done it," Mourinho, the jewel in Serie A's crown, told reporters.

"This qualification for the quarter-finals was earned not with luck, but with merit, thanks to a team which was perfect."

Serie A had been trashed by many pundits after seven-times champions AC Milan were hammered 4-0 at Manchester United last week, a woeful performance which the great Rossoneri side of the 1990s would never have produced.

Fiorentina's unlucky last-16 exit at the hands of Bayern Munich and twice champions Juventus being dumped out in the group stage had raised the prospect of no Italian team reaching the quarter-finals for the second straight year.

However, Italy coach Marcello Lippi reckons the criticism of the Italian game has gone too far, saying commentators quickly forget Italy are world champions.

"Serie A is not the most beautiful league but there are more pressures than in other championships. The coaches are very good and you can lose against the bottom team," he told reporters.

LESS LUCRATIVE

Samuel Eto'o's 78th-minute winner will have shocked English fans who now find only two Premier League teams in the last eight rather than the customary four.

But one good result cannot hide Serie A's deficiencies.

Lower financial revenues in Serie A compared to England and Spain mean clubs miss out on extra income through not owning their own stadiums and having less lucrative television deals.

The once mighty Juve, damaged by a 2006 match-fixing scandal which is still having implications across Italy, are trying to change the status quo by becoming the first Italian side to build their own stadium and not rent a ground from the council.

But occasional outbreaks of hooliganism have affected Serie A attendances and even if a cultural change in stadium ownership eventually brings more revenue, tax laws make it easier for the likes of Real Madrid to attract better players than Serie A.

Milan's top player Kaka left for Real before the start of the season and Inter's talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic quit for Barcelona, saying he had nothing left to achieve in Italy despite never coming close to European success there.

Inter swapped Ibrahimovic for Eto'o but like a raft of other recent Serie A signings, the Cameroonian is past his peak rather than on top of his game despite his goal.

Good young players are being blocked from Italian first teams by a myriad of Argentines and Brazilians not talented enough for their national sides.

Lippi thinks there are too many foreigners at the big teams.

"What is there of Italian football in Inter or Milan? It isn't Italian football, Italian football is something else," he said, highlighting teams such as Palermo and Genoa.

Italian coaches are also fleeing their homeland with Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini choosing England's Chelsea and Manchester City to pursue their careers.

An Inter defeat in the last eight and continued progress for Germany's Bayern, coupled with Europa League results, could still spell trouble for Serie A under UEFA rules.

"It's very tough because it may mean the loss of the fourth Champions League qualifying spot from 2011," Giorgio Brambrilla, from sports marketing group SPORT+MARKT, told Reuters.

"It would have global implications, especially for the club which will finish fourth in the future and will miss out. The strength of Italian football would have to be re-dimensioned."

For now, though, Serie A can rejoice.

Follow FFT.com on Twitter Join FFT.com on Facebook