Crunch time for Inter as CSKA go on defensive

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The Independent Football

Internazionale may be struggling to hold together their domestic title challenge, but there can be no doubting their quest to deliver club president Massimo Moratti's obsession of a first European Cup for 45 years, at least according to Jose Mourinho.

"Inter are having a great Champions League," declared Mourinho yesterday as he prepared his side to face CSKA Moscow in tonight's first leg of the quarter-final at San Siro.

Defeat at Roma on Saturday allowed Claudio Ranieri's side to close the gap at the top of Serie A to a point – losing the Scudetto to the man he succeeded at Chelsea would grate – after a poor run of form that has seen them win just two league games in eight since Valentine's Day.

"We have played eight [Champions League] games, including four against two of the best teams in the world; two against Barcelona, the world champions [a draw and a defeat] and two against Chelsea who many thought were too strong for us," said Mourinho. "The victory over Chelsea was fantastic for us."

That victory had been preceded by another Serie A loss – 3-1 at Catania – so the Italian champions do not appear to be transferring their domestic form abroad. But Arrigo Sacchi, the former Italy manager and one of the masterminds behind Milan's glory days, has accused Inter of taking their eye off the ball domestically, and that that could damage them on both fronts. "They lacked the furore they showed in London," he said of their defeat in Rome. "The poor results are worrying signs for Inter. The reason behind their abrupt slowdown is the Champions League."

Inter remain strong favourites to beat the Russian side, who are playing in the last eight of Europe's premier competition for the first time in 17 years, even without the suspended duo of Lucio and Thiago Motta, although chances in Milan tonight may be at a premium. The onus will be firmly on the home side to make the running. "It will be more difficult than the game in London," predicted Samuel Eto'o, the Inter striker who scored the key goal at Stamford Bridge.

CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky, an interested observer in Rome on Saturday, has stated his intent to adopt an ultra-defensive approach. "It is very difficult to play against this kind of team," said Mourinho. "They are very compact."

CSKA will wear black armbands following the suicide bombings in the Russian capital on Monday. "The city of Moscow has cried and it's a loss for all of Russia," said Slutsky. "We will do our utmost to honour our country and our football with great pride."