MILAN, Italy (AFP) - Inter Milan will be boosted by the return of Cristian Chivu for their crunch Champions League clash against Liverpool at the San Siro on Tuesday night.
Inter trail 2-0 from the first leg of the second round clash in England three weeks ago and coach Roberto Mancini has defensive worries ahead of the return leg.
His first choice centre-half pairing of Argentine Walter Samuel and Colombian Ivan Cordoba are both out injured and Marco Materazzi is suspended while Chivu sat out Saturday's 2-0 victory over Reggina.
But Mancini, who claimed that even an adverse result will not affect his team's standing as one of the giants of Europe, is confident the Romanian will be fit.
"Chivu will be there but great players are those who take to the field even when they are struggling," said Mancini.
A lot of the talk in Milan these last three weeks has been about the possibility of elimination, something that Mancini admits is a serious threat but he doesn't think failure in Europe should deflect from Inter's achievements.
They romped to the Serie A title by 22 points last season and currently lead the table by six points.
"We're still great even if we go out. I'm never pessimistic but it's a possibility," added Manicni.
"We're starting off at a disadvantage but we need to play the perfect match, without giving Liverpool the chance to close down spaces.
"We mustn't rush in trying to score a goal, the match can change in 15 minutes, like Manchester United in the FA Cup."
United dominated Portsmouth in the FA Cup on Saturday but failed to capitalise on their superiority with a goal and saw their goalkeeper dismissed in the final quarter of an hour while giving away a penalty. That was converted by Sulley Muntari and Portsmouth went through to the next round.
Still, history is against Inter, who have not won Europe's premier competition since 1965 and have not even reached the final since 1972.
The last time Inter lifted the cup they met Liverpool in the semi-finals and having lost 3-1 at Anfield they triumphed 3-0 at home before going on to beat Benfica in the final.
Asked if that match would have a bearing on this one, Mancini replied mischievously: "An omen from 43 years ago? I hope they remember our night."
ROME (AFP) - Inter Milan supremo Massimo Moratti insisted he still believed his team can reach the Champions League quarter-finals despite suffering a 2-0 second round first leg defeat to Liverpool on Tuesday.
Inter had Marco Materazzi sent-off for a second booking after only half an hour but held on bravely until the final five minutes when they conceded twice from Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard.
But despite having a mountain to climb in the second leg, Moratti thinks his Serie A leaders have what it takes to turn the tie around.
"We're not out yet," he said on Thursday. "I have faith in the substance of the team: the players, the coach, the mentality, everything.
"The important thing is to convert one chance and that we prevent the other team from scoring, but that's football."
Despite his hopes, Moratti admitted that Tuesday night was a terrible evening for the club.
"I have to be honest, I didn't see anything that gave me confidence. It went badly from all viewpoints. We went a man down, (Ivan) Cordoba was injured, putting us in a difficult situation, everything went wrong."
"But we know there is still another 90 minutes to play which could change everything from the other day."
LIVERPOOL, England (AFP) - Rafael Benitez has admitted it is easier to find success as a manager with Liverpool in the Champions League than in the Premier League.
Benitez's record in Europe's elite club competition stands comparison with any of his peers after leading Liverpool to two finals in three years and winning the trophy in 2005.
The Spaniard inspired another impressive European result from his side on Tuesday as the Reds beat Italian champions Inter Milan 2-0 at Anfield.
But Liverpool have found it impossible to replicate that form on the domestic stage. Once again they are already out of the title race, with only fourth place left to fight for.
Benitez believes the slower pace of Champions League matches suits his tactical style more than the English game's frentic tempo.
"In Europe you can approach a game tactically in a different way. In England it is a different style of football and more difficult for the manager to influence what goes on," Benitez said.
"It is not as simple to influence the game with tactics in England the way it is elsewhere in Europe."
If Liverpool emerge unscathed from their trip to the San Siro next month, Liverpool fans will start dreaming of a repeat of their winning run in the competition three years ago, which culminated in their famous comeback against AC Milan in the final.
Even the usually low-key Benitez was happy to entertain the possibility of emulating that team's heroics.
"There is, I suppose, the prospect of history repeating itself with us going for a European final when we are not in the title race (as in 2005)," Benitez said.
"But I would prefer not to think that far ahead, I always say 'one game at a time' and never has that phrase been more appropriate.
"I know what people were saying (about me). But as a professional you must be ready for every game, to prepare for every game the best you can and with the same ideas.
"Maybe the 'dressing room' felt the need to prove people wrong. But their attitude was no different really to plenty of other games."
LIVERPOOL, England (AFP) - Rafa Benitez insisted he had been vindicated after Liverpool's 2-0 Champions League win over Inter Milan gave the Spanish coach hope of extending his Anfield reign.
Benitez's future looked bleak after he was heavily criticised for resting key players in Saturday's humiliating FA Cup defeat against Barnsley.
That woeful result prompted suggestions Benitez would be sacked if Liverpool failed to reach the final of Europe's elite club competition for the third time in four years.
The Liverpool manager must have feared the worst as his side laboured to overcome Inter on Tuesday despite Marco Materazzi's dismissal only 30 minutes into the last 16 first leg.
But Benitez has built a team who come alive on European nights and they rose to the occasion once again. With Inter clinging on, Liverpool refused to be denied, scoring twice in the last five minutes through Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard to clinch a famous, and possibly job-saving, victory for Benitez.
It was an astonishing finale and Liverpool will travel to the San Siro for the return on March 11 with fresh belief that their season can still have a happy ending.
Benitez was quick to seize the chance to defend his much-maligned rotation policy after Gerrard and Fernando Torres, both rested against Barnsley, played key roles in the win.
"I rotate because I want to win. I have explained several times that you need to change players if you want to keep them all fresh," he said.
"We were playing with different players because we had some injuries before. We needed to do that against a good team like Inter Milan.
"The team can do these things because we have good players but to do it for 10 months you need a very big squad.
"Against Barnsley we created enough to win but we couldn't. Against Inter was more or less in the same in terms of the play. Maybe we had less chances but we scored two goals."
But Benitez knows how important Champions League success is to his future and he warned Liverpool not to underestimate Inter yet.
"Everybody knows how important the Champions League is. We needed to win as a team because we wanted to progress in the competition," he said.
"We're a fantastic club and the players were playing with passion for the club. We knew it was important not to concede. That was one of the main things to have a chance in the second game, so to score two goals was perfect.
"With a cleansheet as well it will be difficult for them but we know they are a good team so we must be careful."
Materazzi's careless display proved the turning point in a tense tie. He had already been booked for one foul on Torres when he needlessly hauled down the Liverpool striker to earn a second yellow card.
Inter looked like holding on as Torres, Peter Crouch and Sami Hyypia all failed to beat Julio Cesar. But the breakthrough finally arrived in the 85th minute when Kuyt's shot deflected in off Maicon.
Gerrard's long range effort in the last minute sent Anfield wild and left Inter coach Roberto Mancini to vent his frustrations at referee Frank de Bleeckere.
"I imagined Liverpool would put on a very good performance because this is all they have left in their season. I knew they would give it their all," he said.
"But undoubtedly Materazzi's sending off changed the game dramatically. As far as I'm concerned the referee got it wrong twice. We were standing up to their attacks but we still have the second leg to come.
"It is not the killer goal. Turning around a result like this is something that teams have done many times in the past and it's certainly not beyond our reach."