Inter coach insists they have closed gap on Barça

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The Independent Football

Jose Mourinho delivered a "that was then, this is now" message to Barcelona ahead of tonight's Champions League semi-final.

The Internazionale coach watched his team humbled in the Nou Camp towards the end of last year as the Italians were beaten 2-0 in the group stages. But, with summer signings Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto'o now fully acclimatised to their new surroundings, Inter go into the home straight still with the chance of winning a treble and, more importantly, of lifting the European Cup for the first time in 45 years.

"Barcelona showed they were hugely superior to us and they won easily," Mourinho said. "They deserved the victory and we were unable to respond to their superiority, but that was November. Barça are still as good as they were back then but what has changed is the way we are playing. We are a much better team than we were back then. I understand why everybody seems to have Barcelona as the clear favourites and that doesn't offend me, but when I look at it I see a tie that is balanced 50-50."

Asked if he thought Barcelona's unorthodox and potentially draining coach trip to Milan would be a major advantage for his side he said he believed the holders were capable of turning an inconvenience into something positive.

He added: "It is a drama but they will have made the journey fun, I am sure, and it would have been an opportunity for them to bond even more as a team and be even more united ahead of the game."

Barcelona's sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, was less inclined to see the positive side of his side's long-haul road trip.

He said: "I know that there are no dates to play these games but ultimately an effort has to be made to prevent one team – in this case the home team in the first leg – from having a clear advantage. Making one side arrive to a game by bus is a story that seems to belong to another era."

Pep Guardiola, the Barça coach, echoed the thoughts of Begiristain, saying: "The trip was not too comfortable for us but we can't let it affect us now. Lots have people have been left stranded throughout Europe. I would rather spend 14 hours on a coach to play the Champions League semi-finals than have to watch them at home. We will try to give everything on the pitch."

Guardiola was eager to expand on the threat posed by the Italian side and their canny coach. "Inter are playing differently now with three up-front and one attacking midfielder," he said. "It is very difficult to prepare a game against them because their coach is very intelligent. We will try to generate chances and get the away goal. We know how important it is to score away and, of course, we will run until we can run no more."

Guardiola also said that he felt Inter's long wait for success in Europe's premier competition made them a more dangerous opponent. "They have not won the Champions for so long so they have that ambition which makes them very dangerous," he explained. "They are strong throughout the whole side and they can hurt you on the counter attack."

Key to resisting such a threat will be a certain Lionel Messi, who scored four times in the second leg against Arsenal and has 40 in all competitions this season. Mourinho admits it is difficult to know how to handle his threat, given the fluid tactics employed by Guardiola. "Above all, let's see how they play because I don't know," Mourinho said. "None of us know. He could play right, left, centre. We don't know.

"What we know is that he is an important player and football, for me, is not about marking man-to-man. It's not for me. Tomorrow it is not one against Messi and 10 v 10, it will be 11 v 11, although he deserves special attention."

Guardiola looked to ease some of the pressure on himself and his players by labelling his opposite number Mourinho as the world's best coach. Asked about tonight's opposition he said: "We are up against a very good Inter side, who have a coach who is possibly the best in the world at the moment.

"The game will not be decided here in San Siro. Inter are too good for us to tie things up here. Everything will be decided in the [return leg at] Camp Nou."