In the end, it was a familiar story. After a few minutes, we thought the decade-long wait for an Italian team to win a European competition might come to an end. But the dream, at the final whistle, disappeared quicker than your miserly friend when the bill arrives in an expensive restaurant.
There was a time when Serie A sides were the experts in the competition, but we have long since socially-distanced ourselves from this trophy. Nowadays, nobody does it better than Sevilla. Inter - once a continental giant - find themselves, just like the rest of their league, a step or two short of the level needed for success.
It need not have been that way, in truth. An early lead through Romelu Lukaku ought to have been the building block towards a victory - for a side convinced of its means. Instead, they let their opponents back in so swiftly that they hardly had any time to sweat. Serial winners would have locked the door and left them to rap on it without reply for 85 minutes or so.
The most encouraging element, if we want to seek it, was the way the Nerazzurri got back to level terms after slipping behind. For 45 minutes, they displayed the necessary character to trade blows with a team which considers the Europa League its personal property. But a scrappy second half highlighted shortcomings which cannot be ignored.
It was not that Julen Lopetegui’s side were brilliant, but they showed their expertise in the later stages of this game. Yes, it was cruel that Lukaku missed a chance not long before sticking the ball into his own net, but the great teams find a way of either getting over these things or finding them happen in their favour. After a thrilling first half, it felt like a bit of a limp exit.
Maybe the trophy was just too important for Inter, while Sevilla had the confidence of a club which seems to win it every time they make the final. And perhaps an earlier introduction of Christian Eriksen, when they were struggling to provide much service for their strikers, might have helped to turn things around. Or, more simply, the La Liga outfit may just have been the better side.
Samir Handanovic said at full time that the defeat would provide a bigger lesson than victory and allow the Milanese giants to come back stronger. That is the optimistic interpretation and is not without some grain of truth. The boys in blue and black have improved both domestically and in Europe and, with a few additions and a bit more time together, they can surely improve. That won’t make the Amaretto taste any less bitter for Inter fans tonight.
A demanding dude like Antonio Conte will also have been left downhearted. For him, second place is nothing and having got close to grabbing some silverware will be no consolation whatsoever. Question marks remain about whether his relationship with the club will be a long-lasting one or a love-affair which never quite bloomed. The team has grown, no doubt, but whether he is the man to complete its development remains to be seen. His post-match interview suggested a parting of the ways is still a distinct possibility.
It would look a bit daft, mind you, to rip everything up and start again. Second place in Serie A - although more distant than it appeared in the league table - and a runners-up spot in the Europa League are not to be thrown away. A few sensible additions to this squad would surely make a competitive outfit ready to give a better account of itself in key fixtures. That should throw some consolation in the way of followers of the Nerazzurri.
In a wider view, the Italian league remains a few paces behind the best in Europe. This game showed that even the continent’s second best competition is beyond them for the time being. But Inter’s run should also serve as a lesson to any club from Serie A which plays in it. For too long, they have snubbed this event, but this season one side appeared to take it seriously. For that, at least, Inter deserve a dash of credit and - who knows - maybe more will follow their lead in years to come.
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