'The Holder's Curse' v 'The Inter Curse'
OK, the second part of the headline might sound slightly obscene but behave at the back! The point is that two of the most gruesome sequences in world football come head to head tonight at Old Trafford and one of them must end.
What am I talking about? Let's start with the 'Holder's Curse'. Simple: in the last four years the holders always got knocked out at the first knockout hurdle in the Champions League. Port, funnily enough, were beaten by Inter in 2005, a year later Liverpool were overturned by Benfica, in 2007 Liverpool were the giantkiller, slaying Barcelona and only last year Arsenal outclassed Milan at the San Siro after a 0-0 draw at the Emirates.
I don't need to remind you who are the holders of the Champions League right now (it's Manchester United - it feels so good to write it down again) so it's up to them (us) to break this curse.
Inter, however, have a curse of their own. Mainly that they haven't won the European Cup since more than 40 years now. In recent years they simply could not beat any major European team: they usually fell at the first hurdle which could be classed as difficult. They did beat the holders in 2004, of course, but that Porto was without Mourinho, Deco, Carvalho and Ferreira - it was a shadow of the team which won the Cup a season before.
The last time they beat a major side in the European Cup was... well, I can't find it to be honest. They haven't won the Scudetto during the 90s and when the Champions League was extended in 1999 they went out in the quarter-final - against a certain Manchester United side. Since then there was a hilarious exit in 2000: they fell at the hands of Helsingborg in the qualifying round, reminding their fans of the embarassment they felt after their European adventure following their last domestic title in 1989: that year they were knocked out at the first round by another Swedish club, Malmö.
We can conclude that Inter are the perennial underachievers in this competition - indeed, many say it pulls them back, that they play with such a burden in Europe that it weighs them down too much.
Shall we end the dreadful record of the holders? Shall Inter finally step out of their own shadows? I hope for the former.