Sneijder confident of Inter progress
He was the star that shone the brightest in last season's Champions League, but Wesley Sneijder's latest European adventure may be about to come to a premature end as Inter Milan stand on the brink of elimination at the last-16 stage of this season's competition.
Inter are in need of some Sneijder magic as they look to reverse a 1-0 first leg defeat against Bayern Munich in Germany on Tuesday night, but ESPNsoccernet's Nick Bidwell found the Dutch midfield maestro in upbeat mood ahead of his rematch with Louis van Gaal's Bundesliga strugglers.
Are you optimistic ahead of this rematch with Bayern Munich?
This tie is anything but finished. Bayern are only ahead at half-time and we will be scrapping to turn it around in Munich. Losing a home match in Europe is always a tough one to swallow, especially when you've created more than enough chances to win and concede in the last minute. It was so frustrating for us, but we can use the feeling of injustice as inspiration now.
Do memories of Inter's Champions League triumph of last season inspire you ahead of a test like this?
For sure. We have an unbreakable spirit at Inter. It's what made us European champions last year and I'm not being pretentious when I say we have a good chance to put Bayern out. Our whole squad is obsessed by victories and we don't quit easily.
Who do you see as the favourites in the Champions League this season?
You never have to look any further than the Italian, Spanish and English leagues to find the winner and that is a little sad for me. It's a shame that teams from other countries don't get a look in anymore, but I can't see a team like Ajax or FC Porto going all the way any time soon.
So if you had to pick out a winner for the Wembley final in May, where would your vote go?
Inter Milan, or course. I still believe in our team and we want to try and repeat what we did last season, but clearly Real Madrid and Barcelona are serious contenders. Barca are in great form and look like a winning machine. They play great football and aren't put off by hard work either. Real are a threat; they still have class all over the pitch and because Mourinho is a genius. Over 180 minutes, he can find a way to beat any side. His Real side might have lost ground to Barcelona in the Spanish League, but in the Champions League, he's capable of anything. You write Mourinho off at your peril.
Your admiration for your former coach Mourinho is clear. Is he the best coach you have worked with?
He is brilliant. When things weren't going well for me at Real, it was Mourinho who picked me up and made me feel important again. He sent me text messages encouraging me to come to Inter and fired me up to show everyone what I was really worth. It's not just that Mourinho makes all his players feel special, but he makes them prepared to put in the maximum and a little bit more.
So what is special about Mourinho?
What he gives a squad is the idea that he's got every single issue under his total control. Physically, psychologically and tactically, a Mourinho side feels as though nothing can stop them. He builds you up mentally and keeps you on your toes with surprises. You have to play straight with him, though. If you step over the line and act unprofessionally, he'll come down very hard on you. He can be harder than most coaches if you cross him.
How do you rate the Premier League teams challenging for the Champions League this season?
When you add the self-belief and physicality of the English to the technical ability of some of the best players in the world, you have a potent mix and I expect Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham to go a long way in the competition. United are a side which reflects the mentality of their coach as Sir Alex Ferguson, like Mourinho, lives to compete and win and his team play with the sort of heart and fire you can't buy. Also, I like Tottenham, they are a team to watch. They gave us a bit of a lesson in London and what I like about them is the pace of guys like Bale and Lennon and that they play freely without any fear.
Rafael van der Vaart has been a star for Tottenham this season. Has his revival surprised you?
Not at all, as he is a special player. We understand each other really well and have the same ideas about how the game should be played, placing the emphasis on creativity. Like me, he had his problems at Real Madrid, but seems to have bounced back in style. He didn't have much time to think about it when Tottenham made a bid for him last summer, but he undoubtedly made the right decision. He's a match winner and gives Tottenham another dimension.
Would you like to follow Van der Vaart and play in the England's top flight?
Without doubt, the Premier League is one of the best places to be in Europe. It stands for passion, prestige, colour and high-class football, but I have to respect Inter, with whom I've got a long-term contract. They threw me a line when I needed it the most and here I've won just about everything. I'm very grateful to Mourinho, our president Mr Moratti and, of course, the Inter fans.
Can Inter still win the title in Italy this season?
We will not throw in the towel as all of us believe we have a chance to overtake AC Milan. It's clear they have superb individuals in Pato, Robinho and especially Ibrahimovic, but I feel we are more of a team. I see Inter as a commando unit, that's our strength. We certainly haven't said our last word in the championship race.
How has Leonardo settled in as Inter coach?
He deserves a lot of credit for the huge improvement in our confidence levels and results. He's a smart guy, full of enthusiasm and communicates easily with the players. We trust him and he trusts us. It makes no difference that he had a long history with AC Milan because he is one of us now.
Were you sad to see Rafa Benitez leave Inter in such hasty fashion?
Benitez is a strong character and rightly wanted to introduce his own philosophy and way of doing things to Inter, but taking on a team that had just completed a clean sweep was always going to be difficult for him and the fact we had so many injuries made it even more complicated. I wish him well for his future.