As an Inter Milan fan for over 28 years, I have had some bittersweet memories of Valencia. The Los Che first captured my attention in the early 2000s. This was around the same time it began its rise from relative obscurity to become a European powerhouse.
The Cuper – Kily connection
The most important connection between Inter Milan and Valencia has to be football manager Hector Raul Cuper. You could say the Argentinian was the “nearly man” for both clubs.
He did well to bring Valencia to two consecutive Champions League finals — both in the 1999/2000 and 2000/2001 season. As it stands, these are Los Che’s only appearances at the Champions League finals to date. Despite his efforts, his only silverware at the club would arrive during the 1999/2000 season where he would go on to win the Supercopa de Espana.
In 2001, he would make the switch over to Inter Milan. Sadly, his most memorable moment at the club would come on the last day of the 2001/2002 Serie A season.
It goes like this.
On the 5th of May 2002, the final day of the league, the club was poised to win its first Scudetto since 1989. All it had to do was beat Lazio. But a devastating 4-2 loss to Lazio meant that the title would go to rivals Juventus.
The second link between both clubs would come in the form of Argentine winger Kily Gonzalez. A key component of Cuper’s Valencia outfit, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his manager and move to the San Siro in the summer of 2003.
He would only spend about four months at Inter with Cuper before the manager’s exit in October 2003.
Despite being at Inter for almost three years, Gonzalez had a largely forgettable career at the San Siro. In fact, he failed to score a single goal for Inter at that time.
He did, however, win two Coppa Italias with the club during the 2004/2005 and 2005/2006 season. He would also be part of the famous squad that won the 2005/2006 Serie A title.
Clash of the titans
The first time I watched Inter take on Valencia was during the 2001/2002 UEFA Cup quarter-finals. The first leg at the San Siro ended in a 1-1 draw. This meant that Valencia had the advantage of the away goal rule.
The second leg at the Mestalla was unforgettable. We scored early in the game through Italian forward Nicola Ventola before surviving an onslaught of attacks from Valencia for the rest of the game. Our goalkeeper Francesco Toldo was immense that day. Nothing got past him. We would go on to win the tie 1-0.
A season later, we met in the Champions League quarter-finals and frustrated Valencia again. Despite having drawn 2-2 on aggregate across two legs, we would go on to knock them out on the away goals rule. Valencia must have been sick of facing us. In 2004-05, we were both drawn in the same group of the Champions League where we produced our most convincing and dominant performance at the Mestalla to date. We thrashed Valencia 5-1 with an inspired performance by our Brazilian maestro Adriano.
Valencia fights back
We would meet again in the Champions League Round of 16 tie during the 2006/2007 season. The first leg at the San Siro would end in a 2-2 draw. Valencia had the advantage of the away goals rule going into the second leg at the Mestalla.
This time, Valencia frustrated us. We couldn’t get past them. The Bats held onto a 0-0 draw and knocked us out.
Finally, Valencia got their revenge.
But what happened towards the end of that game would probably be remembered more than the actual match itself.
The feisty encounter would reach fever pitch at the final whistle. Television pictures captured Valencia defender Carlos Marchena kicking out at Inter Milan defender Nicolas Burdisso after a fiery exchange of words.
The incident would spark a mass brawl. Valencia substitute David Navarro, who had not featured in the match, ran on to the middle of the pitch and punched Nicolas Burdisso in the face, breaking his nose.
Several Inter players tried to get hold of Navarro as he ran off the pitch. The fighting would continue in the tunnel.
It was a terrible display of sportsmanship and conduct. Players from both teams were fined and handed lengthy bans. That would mark the last competitive meeting between both European powerhouses.
Despite our differences, one thing is clear – both clubs have always fought through the darkest of storms to come up tops. Plus, the dedication and passion from both sets of fans remain unrivalled in the footballing world.
Will we see another showdown between both clubs soon?
I certainly hope so.