Saturday November 6 2010
Paper champions?

After midweek humiliation do Inter bounce back or do we have to re-evaluate their status as European champions? Steve Wilson considers the issue

Inter ARE the European champions. That is unquestionable. It says it in the record books, it says it on the trophy. However, after this week's Champions League result their status suddenly seems a little tainted, they don't seem like champions. How many other Champions League winners have looked so tame in their defence? If you ask yourself who the best team in Europe is, do Inter really spring to mind first?

A 3-1 loss to a rookie team in the Champions League is not unheard of, Roma were humiliated by Cluj a few years back and Inter themselves have the Helsingborgs stain on their CV. The difference is neither of those teams were the reigning champions. Tottenham Hotspur are not a bad side, there have been worse debutant teams to spring surprises, but, for Inter to go down to them while allegedly the cream of Europe does not paint a pretty picture.

I have to admit, when Inter defeated Bayern Munich I did not have the same feeling as I did after the 2008 and 2009 Finals. On those occasions it felt like the right team had won the tournament. At the time it was fair to say that Manchester United and Barcelona were the two strongest teams on the continent. Did it ever feel like Inter really were the best? The elimination of holders Barca and favourites Chelsea was a truly impressive feat, but something just did not feel right.

Maybe it was that they defeated another team who had sprung a few shocks, thus making it an underdog against underdog – if you can call prior European champions underdogs – Final. Maybe it was because they lost the Super Cup Final. Maybe it is because they are now shorn of the man who guided them to the glory, Jose Mourinho. There is something that just doesn't make sense in calling Inter the best team in Europe.

The 2008 winners, United, reached the Final again the next year. Last term Barca reached the semis, although they too were humbled in their group – by Rubin Kazan. I guess the answer to the question will be answered in the knock-out stages. If Inter really are the best then they will make it to the Final four, at least. Rafael Benitez has the chance against Brescia to re-establish their presence at home this weekend, their position on the continent will need a lot more work.

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