Guarin inspires in Coppa Italia win

Posted by Mike Whittaker

Claudio Villa/Getty ImagesFredy Guarin carried Inter on his back in their Coppa Italia victory versus Verona on Tuesday night.

Inter's Coppa Italia campaign continued Wednesday night in the last 16 against Serie B side Hellas Verona, who had already claimed the scalps of two Serie A sides, Genoa and Palermo, to get to this stage. The odds were against the minnows from the outset, with Inter having not lost at home in the domestic cup for ten years. Not to mention the fact that in the 27 times Verona have visited the Giuseppe Meazza, they have never won a match.

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Andrea Stramaccioni did balance the odds slightly though, mixing up his starting line-up to give some of his fringe players some time on the pitch. Ricky Alvarez joined Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio in the attacking tridente. MacDonald Mariga and Alfred Duncan took charge of the centre midfield, and in defence, we saw a return of veteran defender Cristian Chivu -- named captain for the evening -- who marked his first game back since going out injured in August.

The game started with a stadium full of fog caused by the flares that had been set off in the stands before kickoff. This made the visibility difficult for all the players, and just 15 minutes into the game, I was sure the game was going to be abandoned when the referee Rocchi called a halt to the play while he discussed the situation with the coaches and his fellow officials. To be honest, at that point I would've happily accepted that decision due to the lacklustre start shown by Inter, but it was decided that the show would go on.

It wasn't just the first 15 minutes that were uninspiring for Inter, but for the whole first half the majority of the Nerazzurri players looked as though they had joined Wesley Sneijder and Phillipe Coutinho in an early start to the Christmas break. The only exceptions to this were Cassano and Alvarez who were doing everything they could to get the ball into the box. Verona by far dominated the first 45 minutes but they failed to take advantage of their possession.

When they had the ball, Inter struggled to link up the midfield with the attack, leaving Alvarez and Cassano no other option than to come deep to retrieve the ball. To be fair, Inter had chances that should've put them ahead in the first half. The first came as Cassano was fouled on the edge of the box, but the ball was picked up by Palacio who, just as the whistle was blown, planted the ball into the back of the net. In my opinion, Rocchi should've played the advantage in this situation and allowed the goal to stand. Alvarez showed off his incredible skill on the ball juking past the opposition with his fantastic dribbling ability, but twice in the first half he wasted golden opportunities to give Inter the lead.

The game-changer came at the start of the second half when Fredy Guarin was brought on in place of Mariga. Both he and Duncan were doing a great job in the defensive midfield but Inter were severely lacking the skills that Guarin can bring to the game. It didn't take long for the Colombian to make an impact, setting up Cassano for the first goal, and then minutes later scoring himself from a free kick situation and with a little help from a deflection.

Guarin's ability to bring the ball out of the midfield and create chances for the attacking element of the Inter team has been crucial for the Nerazzurri this season, and Guaro is proving himself a valuable part of the Inter line-up for any game. The fact that Inter looked like a completely different team after he came on speaks volumes about his importance to the squad. This in itself worries me -- no other player in the squad has been as influential as Guarin recently, and it could have a detrimental effect to Inter's season if they become too reliant on just one player to make the difference in games.

The drama for Inter in this match that should've been a walk in the park continued when keeper Luca Castellazzi dived to stop the ball going out of play for a corner, but he landed awkwardly on his shoulder which put the 37-year-old in a lot of pain. The veteran keeper recovered enough to continue, and Stramaccioni must've decided that it wasn't a worry. This was a huge mistake as shortly after Stramaccioni made his third and final change, Castellazzi made a save only to see his shoulder completely go on him, the only option being for him to leave the pitch reducing his side to ten men for the remainder of the game.

Surprisingly, it was Palacio who pulled on the goalkeeping gloves, and took up the vacant spot between the posts. The final fifteen minutes of play were a real nail-biting affair for us Interisti watching, none of us knowing how well Palacio could do in goal. Luckily however, Verona's ability to hit the target was mediocre at best, and once they got past the lines of Nerazzurri players behind the ball, they generally sent the ball well wide or high.

Palacio did prove his shot-stopping abilities though making two fantastic saves to ensure that Inter kept their clean sheet and progressed to the quarterfinals in January. For Castellazzi however, I feel it could be the last we see of him on the pitch after this injury. Though if he is forced to retire because of this, I believe Vid Belec would be more than capable of becoming back-up for his compatriot Samir Handanovic.

This win didn't come half as easy for Inter as it should have been against a Serie B side. Once again, a lack of creativity was causing major problems for the Nerazzurri. I just hope this can be remedied in the January transfer window, or even by coming to an agreement with Sneijder to stay. Whatever happens, Inter still have a lot of improving to do by the end of the season, and a top three league finish is still far from certain playing like this.

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