Four down, two to go. Sport Club Internacional’s success in the Copa Libertadores was something of a surprise. Inter, named by their founders after Internazionale of Milan, had long been the massive under-achievers of Brazilian football, more often than not playing second fiddle to their outlandishly-shirted local rivals Gremio in the city of Porto Alegre. Obviously, there is a plethora of great Brazilian footballers, and Inter have provided their fair share – Taffarel, Dunga, Falcao and Gerson have all gone on to greatness after starting out at the Gigante de Beira-Rio, but the club themselves have never really hit the heights of the likes of Fluminense, Sao Paolo, , Corinthians, Flamengo or, and this is what must have hurt the most, Gremio. Their city rivals have won the Copa Libertadores twice. When Inter finally won it, it must have felt like an exorcism.
The byzantine nature of Brazilian football, whose authorities seem to want every team to win at least one trophy every season, means that the Inter trophy cabinet has hardly been bare over the years – they have been the state champions thirty-four times – but the overall Brazilian championship has only been theirs three times, and they haven’t managed that since 1979. The Copa Libertadores was their first non-domestic trophy, and winning it lifted them into the top ten club sides in the world. As the previous two winners of this competition, Corinthians and Sao Paolo, have both been from Brazil, expectations will be high.
The key question is this: are they good enough to win it? Well, of course they are. They’re one of Brazil’s top sides. They’re the current South American champions. You can ascribe a certain amount of their success to luck, but you don’t get past the likes of Nacional of Montevideo, Libertad (the Paraguayan champions) and Sao Paolo, all over two legs, if you can’t play a bit. Their current team is certainly short on celebrity, but that’s by no means a bad thing. A quick look down their current first team squad doesn’t reveal any names that are going to get me hanging round their hotel with a notepad and pen, though. Fernandao had a spell in France with Olympique Marseille, and Fabian Vargas’ name rings a bell somewhere deep in my subconscious, but I think that may just be from his international appearances for Columbia. The weight of expectation will hang heavy on the shoulders of Internacional – as heavy in many ways as it will be on Barcelona. With a potentially tricky semi-final against Ahly to come, South America’s stranglehold on this competition might just be about to be broken.