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Defending European champion Inter Milan is knocked out by Schalke '04

Bundesliga club wins series, 7-3 on aggregate, clearly indicating Inter needs a complete revamping, especially in its back line. Schalke reaches semifinals of European Champions League for first time.

April 13, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones
  • Inter Milan goalie Julio Cesar walks off the field following his team's 2-1 loss to Schalke in a Champions League quarterfinal match Wednesday.
Inter Milan goalie Julio Cesar walks off the field following his team's… (Friso Gentsch / EPA )

Inter Milan's reign as European champion came to a tame end Wednesday when the Italian club was beaten, 2-1, by Schalke '04 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

The Bundesliga club thus won the series, 7-3 on aggregate, a score that clearly indicates Inter's need for a complete revamping, especially in its back line, where three elderly Brazilians — goalkeeper Julio Cesar, 31, and defenders Lucio, 33 in May, and Maicon, 29, all look to be surplus to requirements.

Inter already is reported to be eyeing Italian goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano as a possible successor to Cesar, who has been error-prone of late, while Lucio and Maicon are on the downward side of distinguished careers.

Whether Coach Leonardo, another Brazilian, is eased out himself remains to be seen. He joined Inter only in December, from AC Milan.

"Since I arrived, I've asked a lot of the players, ignoring injuries and fatigue," he said. "My players have given a lot over the past few months, in at times difficult situations."

A season, Leonardo said, "is a real marathon and at times we got caught up other people's expectations and did not perform at our best. We were punished for it in the first leg," in which Inter was overwhelmed, 5-2.

Schalke, meanwhile, is riding higher than it ever has. It has reached the semifinals of the European Champions League for the first time, with the only troubling news being that it is Manchester United that awaits.

United's coach, Alex Ferguson, was in the AufSchalke Arena on Wednesday night to see how competently the German team, lying only ninth in the Bundesliga, disposed of the reigning European champions.

"A semifinal in the Champions League is something extraordinary for all of us, and against Manchester United we will start in a similar position to how we began against Inter — as clear outsiders," said Schalke Coach Ralf Rangnick. "But again, anything can happen, and if it all goes to plan we can reach the final."

It was Raul, the veteran Spanish forward who won the Champions League three times while playing for Real Madrid, who sparked Schalke's victory. He scored the first goal — his record 71st in European competition — and set up the second for Benedikt Howedes. Thiago Motta scored for Inter.

Real Madrid also won Wednesday, shutting out Tottenham Hotspur, 1-0, in London to wrap up its series against the English Premier League team, 5-0 on aggregate.

Spurs' loss means that all three London teams that reached the last 16 — Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea — have fallen. No London club has won the Champions League or its predecessor, the European Cup.

Real, a nine-time European champion, will play Barcelona in what promises to be an epic semifinal series. The teams play each other Saturday in a Spanish league game that, if Barcelona wins, would virtually clinch the Catalan club the title. The teams will also play each other in the Spanish Cup final.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scored the game-winning goal for Real Madrid, driving a shot from 30 yards that Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes fumbled off his fingertips.

The ball spun behind Gomes and ended up in the back of the net before the goalkeeper could recover.

"The goal was disappointing, but the goalkeeper's been great for us and he's made saves that he'd had no right to make in the past," said Tottenham Coach Harry Redknapp. "He's made a rare mistake, but that's how it goes."

Spurs fans were left questioning whether Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli and his assistants had not made a mistake or two of their own. Three penalty claims by Tottenham were waved away by the official.

Redknapp also added to the debate on the use of end-line assistant referees, who have yet to contribute anything meaningful since the number of match officials was increased from three to five.

"Sometime you get them, sometimes you don't," Redknapp said of the noncalls by Rizzoli. "I sometimes wonder what the guy behind the goal is doing there. He must be there for some reason, but I still haven't worked out why."

Welsh international winger Gareth Bale, Tottenham's best player on a night when the team's Russian and Dutch forwards, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Rafael van der Vaart, were abysmal, said Real rightfully reached the semifinals.

Real Madrid Coach Jose Mourinho, who won the tournament with Inter Milan last season and with FC Porto in 2004, became first coach to reach the Champions League semifinals with four clubs, having also done so with Chelsea.

The semifinals will be played April 26 and 27 and May 3 and 4, with the final at Wembley Stadium in London on May 28.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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