Barca's Ibrahimovic braces for frosty reception at Inter Milan
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The first major clash of this year's Champions League takes place at Milan's San Siro stadium where hosts Inter receive Spanish title holders Barcelona after swapping strikers Samuel Eto'o (left) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) this summer.
AFP - It will be a quick reunion for strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto'o when Inter Milan host Barcelona at the San Siro on Wednesday.
The pair swapped clubs in the summer and will have been waiting for this match against their old employers with bated breath ever since the group stage draw was made a little over two weeks ago.
But between the two, Inter's Eto'o is likely to face a far more generous welcome from the Barcelona faithful than his opposite number will from the Inter tifosi.
Eto'o scored goals in two Champions League finals for Barca, who lifted the trophy on both occasions.
Ibrahimovic's departure from Milan will have left a bitter taste in the mouths of some fans, however, and he will only have exacerbated the problem last week when suggesting that Inter only won the title because they signed him.
One person who bears no grudges, though, is Inter coach Jose Mourinho who promised a fond greeting for the big Sweden forward, before the match at least.
"A player like Ibra who did a lot for me will always be close to my heart but I'm someone who forgets quickly and hence I'm thinking only about my players," said Mourinho.
"I'm satisfied with his work at Barca but I'm delighted with my strikers. I'll give him a big hug before the match but during the game I don't even want to know who he is.
"He did a lot for Inter and Inter did a lot for him, for me the two realities are the same.
"Right now Inter are a work in progress but we have the potential to be a team that plays spectacular football."
That's something that they will face in the shape of the reigning European champions who dazzled last season en route to a treble that saw them emulate the feat of the Manchester United team of 1999.
Even so, Mourinho is not one to suffer from an inferiority complex and insisted his team can win this match.
"Are we going into the match with Barcelona on an equal footing? Of course, in the first minute the score will be 0-0," he joked.
"But Barca are a team that can play with their eyes closed, they've had the same players for a long time.
"They've added Ibrahimovic but basically the structure hasn't changed. We've got five new players but that doesn't mean anything, the game will start at 0-0 and obviously we believe we can win."
One reason for his confidence has been the form of strike pair Eto'o and Diego Milito, a summer acquisition from Genoa.
Both scored in Saturday's 2-0 defeat of Parma and despite the loss of Ibrahimovic, Mourinho believes his team has improved.
He has also been up to his usual tricks recently, claiming that Eto'o was the best striker he had ever worked with, a slight perceved to be aimed at Ibrahimovic.
However, Barca coach Pep Guardiola employed a similar tactic following Ibrahimovic's second goal in two league matches in the 2-0 win over Getafe at the weekend.
"He was incredible. We were able to base our attacking play on him and he scored as well," said Guardiola.
That was possibly aimed at boosting his player's confidence ahead of this crucial clash as Ibrahimovic has often been accused of failing to deliver on the biggest stages.
But he claims to be happy in Spain.
"I'm very satisfied with the way things are going at Barca. I'm adapting well to the team and the coach's system of play," he said. "And on top of that the goals are good for confidence."
Inter and Barca have met once before in the Champions League, during the second group stage in 2002/03.
Barca won 3-0 at home before the Milan match ended in a 0-0 stalemate with Barca topping the group ahead of Inter.
However, it was the Italians who went further in the competition as Barca were eliminated by Juventus in the quarter-finals and Inter reached the semis, where they lost to AC Milan.
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