Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan produced a defensive masterclass to reach the Champions League final at the expense of holders Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
Protecting a first-leg 3-1 lead, Inter were forced to play more than an hour a man short after Thiago Motta saw red for a hand-off on Sergio Busquets.
But Barca failed to fire before Gerard Pique’s shot set up a frantic finale.
Bojan Krkic then saw an injury-time strike ruled out, but Inter held on for a first European Cup final since 1972.
The Italian giants will now face Bayern Munich at the Bernabeu on 22 May as Mourinho attempts to lead them to European football’s top prize for the first time in more than 40 years.
Barcelona’s efforts to become the first team to retain the Champions League trophy, meanwhile, ended in frustration in the face of a sensationally stoic defensive show from the Italians.
Mourinho’s reaction at the final whistle said it all as he sprinted around the Nou Camp pitch with his hands aloft, a pointed salute to the Barca supporters and media critics who had labelled him “The Translator” in mocking tribute to his time at the club in the 1990s.
This was further testimony to the Portuguese manager’s claims to be “the special one” as his side’s tactics, belief and resolve withstood a home onslaught that saw Barca run out of ideas until Pique’s goal.
Emotions and tensions were expected before kick-off to run high, but even for a Champions League semi-final this match surpassed expectations.
An extraordinarily vocal 98,000 Nou Camp played their part, while Mourinho – so often the pantomime villain – riled the Barcelona faithful and staff alike as a constant and vocal presence on the sidelines.
But, more than that, controversy stalked the match regularly, even before Bojan’s late strike was ruled out.
The replacement of winger Goran Pandev – apparently injured – with defender Christian Chivu in the Inter line-up minutes before kick-off caught everyone by surprise, while the visitors’ high-pressure tactics and gamesmanship continually frustrated the hosts.
And the decision of Belgian referee Frank de Bleeckere to dismiss Motta was even more contestable.
The Brazilian, already on a booking, did indeed raise a hand when defending the ball and he certainly made contact with Busquets’ face as he did so, but a straight red card appeared a harsh decision.
Motta’s reaction following the dismissal, man-handling Busquets in protest, only fanned the flames of a high-octane encounter.
Amid all of the drama, the football was enthralling, if a little light on goal-scoring chances.
The pattern was set early on, with Inter happy to sit deep and flood their defensive areas in protection of their first-leg lead, while the hosts’ passing game was typically fluent but all too often in front of the visitors rather than in behind them.
Twice Xavi had a sight of goal but the midfielder was crowded out on both occasions, Pedro flashed an instinctive volley wide from Dani Alves’ cross, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a snap-shot well blocked by Walter Samuel.
The best effort of the first half by far, though, came from Messi, the Argentine’s goalbound curler from 20 yards superbly tipped wide on the stretch by Inter keeper Julio Cesar.
This was a classic match-up of Inter’s defence against Barca’s attack, though Mourinho’s side did have a brief glimpse of goal when Samuel Eto’o found himself in acres of space in the box from Wesley Sneider’s cross, only for his touch to allow Pedro to get back and clear.
The second period was even more one-sided in terms of possession, with almost the entire half played in Inter’s defensive third.
But Inter looking increasingly comfortable as the likes of Messi, Pedro, Ibrahimovic and Xavi probed at their defence without success, though Bojan should have done better when he headed wide from close range.
Still, with six minutes of normal time remaining, Barcelona broke the Italians’ backline for virtually the first time as Pique, arguably offside, collected Xavi’s pass, turned inside defender Ivan Cordoba’s challenge and slid home for a goal of which Messi himself would have been proud.
And for the first time in the match, Barcelona sensed victory.
They almost had it too when substitute Bojan broke free in the Inter box and lashed into the roof of the net in injury time.
The home supporters’ unbridled joy at what would have proven a tie-winning goal was short-lived, though, as the referee had given a handball against Yaya Toure in the build-up long before.
It was a contentious decision, in keeping with some strange rulings from the officials throughout the night.
However, Inter will argue they deserved their slice of luck, and the match-up of Mourinho against Bayern boss Louis van Gaal, one of the men under whom he served his apprenticeship at Barca, provides a fascinating back-drop to what will be an hotly-contested final next month.
- Travellers complain of rampant robbery at Bunso Junction off Accra-Kumasi highway
- 9 Nigerians arrested for illegally entering Ghana after crossing Volta River
- 7 times Ghana has beaten Nigeria to the prize
- Akuapem Poloo’s child is with me, he doesn’t know what is going on – Actress’ lawyer
- NDC must focus on healing the horse, not selecting a rider – Kunbour
- Tottenham sack Mourinho after 17 months
- Attorney General supports my motion for appeal – Lawyer for Akuapem Poloo reveals
- 36th ICAG Graduation Ceremony; female UCC alumni crowned overall best candidate
- Whether dumsor is back or not, current power outages must be resolved immediately – Prof Adei
- Black Stars coaches Arrears: Appiah and Akonnor paid combined $213,000
Message from the Morning Man: Sandbags
Kwasi Korang: NPP leadership should be bold and stop the Bawumia camp from campaigning
Bawumia is a gem – Ama Busia
‘Bawumia is more than qualified to lead the NPP in 2024’ – Ama Busia
Group makes schooling attractive for blind and deaf student in Cape Coast through sports
School Feeding caterers discount claims NPP Regional Chairman received funds meant for their payment
NDC executives were aware of Tema forum held by party bigwigs – Antwi-Boasiako
Legon Cities and Gulf Energy commission a 50-Bed facility for the Ghana Armed Forces training base at Bundase
LGBTQ: We cannot turn this country into a satanic one – Chieftaincy Minister rallies support from Chief Imam
Covid-19: If you miss 8-week window for 2nd jab, your protection isn’t gone – GHS on delay in vaccine procurement
Enforce law allows for unexplained wealth to be questioned – Prof Adei
Nobody can dictate to the media what to publish – Oppong Nkrumah
Former NSMQ contestant, Francis Tetteh reported dead
Apostle Adjei’s case against EC boss adjourned to May 17
Drama as KiDi clashes with lookalike on live TV