ROME, Italy, April 19 – After following up their Champions League demise with a humbling loss at Parma which all but extinguished their lingering Serie A title hopes Inter Milan hope to rescue something from the rubble by at least retaining the Italian Cup.
Inter head for Roma, who are set to miss out on the Champions League places altogether after a weekend home loss to Palermo, for Tuesday’s semi-final first leg knowing they must pull their socks up amid media reports Sunday that maybe, just maybe, last season’s treble-winning coach Jose Mourinho might be plotting a return.
Job done last season after bringing home a first European Cup in 45 years as well as the Scudetto and the Cup for an unprecedented treble, the Portuguese decamped to Real Madrid, whom he hopes to lead to a tenth European Cup if they can first see off old rivals and league nemeses Barcelona in the semis of that tournament.
Sunday saw speculation that ‘Mou’ might come back amid reports he has registered his two children at the schools they attended while he was in charge at Milan just an hour’s drive from the club’s training complex at Appiano Gentile.
Even a Cup success would be scant consolation for Inter amid a fading league campaign and a European exit to Germany’s Schalke – and it would likely not prove enough to keep Brazilian Leonardo at the helm.
A victory in the tournament would in fact give the nerazzurri their second trophy of the season with the sacked Rafa Benitez having been in charge just long enough to bring home the FIFA Club World Cup.
Poor league form meant that was not enough to keep the former Liverpool boss in charge and the Coppa Italia is similarly not likely to persuade club bosses of Leonardo’s pedigree – judgment almost certainly being confined to his side’s Champions league and Serie A showings.
Upping the ante for Inter is the knowledge that if they can get past Roma then they could face city rivals AC Milan, the team likely to succeed them as league champions, in the final if the latter can first get past Palermo, whom Milan face in their first leg on Wednesday.
A putative Cup win at Milan’s expense would at least be a personal boost for Leonardo, who spent last season in the Milan hotseat.
"Let’s think about our objectives and try to win the Cup," Leonardo urged.
AC Milan, on course for a domestic double, will find Palermo determined rivals as the Sicilians are desperate to make this their year having never won the tournament after losing finals in 1974 and 1979.
Controversial Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini has put his faith once again in Delio Rossi, reinstated as coach just five weeks after he fired him.
Rossi was shown the door following the Sicilians’ 7-0 home defeat to Udinese in late February.
But replacement Serse Cosmi got the chop after four losses in five games and back came Rossi, who hopes the likes of 21-year-old Argentine Diego Pastore can seize the moment in their semi.
"This team is young. When you work with young lads who have their moments, their highs and lows, you have to give them time to mature. But this team has to play and take risks."
Semi-final programme (all 8:45 pm Kenyan Time)
AS Roma v Inter Milan
AC Milan v Palermo
Tuesday, May 10
Palermo v AC Milan (1845)
Wednesday, May 11
Inter Milan v AS Roma (1845)