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How a sibling rivalry was the real story of Inter’s famous win over Barcelona

During the 2009/2010 season, two brothers - Diego and Gabriel Milito - faced off against one another for a place in the Champions League final

We’re sure Jorge and Mirta Milito – a ordinary married couple who lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina – were exceptionally proud of their two sons.

You see, their boys Diego and Gabriel, born just over a year apart, were lucky enough to represent their country and play for two of the biggest clubs in the world at the very height of their respective careers.

Brothers in arms

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Brothers in arms

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Diego is perhaps the better-known of the two, having made a name for himself with Argentinian side Racing Club – the club his entire family supported – before lighting up La Liga with Real Zaragoza, where his goal-scoring exploits eventually earned him a move to Serie A giants Inter Milan.

Of course, he’d go onto become the linchpin of Jose Mourinho’s terrific treble-winning side in 2010, winning the Man of the Match award in the Champions League final as his two goals sunk Bayern Munich.

AP:Associated Press
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Cordon
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Then there was Gabriel, his little brother.

Unlike his goal-hungry sibling who was a centre-forward, he chose to become a central-defender.

He also started out at Independiente – the bitter cross-city rivals of Racing – before joining his brother at Zaragoza, where they played alongside one another for 18 months before Gabi moved to Barcelona.

At this time, Mourinho’s Inter revolution was the talk of European football, while Barcelona were changing the face of the game under guide of Guardiola.

It was inevitable that the two powerhouses would meet in the Champions League. 

They’re mates really

Reuters
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They’re mates really

And meet they did.

In the 2009/2010 season, Barca – the reigning European champions – were drawn with Inter in Group F of the competition and narrowly came out on top.

They went onto defeat Stuttgart and Arsenal on their way to the semi-final, while second-placed Inter faced Chelsea and then CSKA Moscow.

At this point, no one could determine which side was destined for the final, but they were the two favourites to lift the trophy that season.

Milito was on target against Chelsea

Times Newspapers Ltd
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Milito was on target against Chelsea

Messi humbled Arsenal

Reuters
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Messi humbled Arsenal

But while there was no separating the two clubs in terms of success, the fortunes of the Milito brothers were quite different that year.

Diego had been prolific for Inter, helping them top the Serie A under the guise of being one of the most underrated goal-scorers in world football.

But for Gabriel, it was a different story. The defender had missed the entire 2008/2009 campaign for Barca – which ended in a treble under Guardiola – after injuring the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

He was sidelined for nearly two years, only making his competitive return in January 2010 – just four months prior to the semi-final clash.

Gabi’s time at Barca was riddled with injuries

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Gabi’s time at Barca was riddled with injuries

In their homeland, as well as in Spain, the two brothers had faced-off numerous times, with Gabriel seemingly always coming out on top over Diego.

In fact, in their first local derby against each other back in Buenos Aires, Diego was sent off after just 15 minutes when up against Gabi.

Then years later, Gabi’s Barcelona made light work of Diego’s Zaragoza on the two occasions they met on the pitch, with Diego failing to score.

Mentally, Gabriel had the upper-hand.

Gabriel always seemed to get the better of his brother whenever they met on the pitch

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Gabriel always seemed to get the better of his brother whenever they met on the pitch

But in the first-leg clash in Milan, Gabi failed to even make it onto the pitch as he was forced to watch on from the bench as his older brother inspired Inter to a 3-1 win; setting up both Wesley Sneijder and Maicon either side of half-time before slamming home their third.

Barca needed to do something extra-special to even think about making a comeback at the Nou Camp a week later, and they’d be doing so captain Carles Puyol, who was suspended for the second-leg after his booking at the Giuseppe Meazza.

The gap left in Barca’s back-line was inevitably filled by Gabi, who was poised to face his brother on the pitch once again.

A place in the European Cup final was at stake.

Two goals and an assist against Barcelona? Not bad, at all

EPA
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Two goals and an assist against Barcelona? Not bad, at all

History will remember this last step before the promise land of the Champions League final as ‘Mourinho’s semi-final’.

It was the ultimate-defensive display, with Inter determined to protect their fragile advantage against the might of Barcelona’s attack.

Tensions heightened when Mourinho’s midfield-chief Thiago Motta was sent off after just half an hour after clashing with Sergio Busquets, and intensified when Gerard Pigue finally broke through the defensive-line in the second-half.

But for Diego and Gabi, it was all merely a distraction for their own personal battle.

Diego up against his brother’s replacement Maxwell

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Diego up against his brother’s replacement Maxwell

For 45 minutes – before Guardiola hauled Gabi off in place of the more-offensive Maxwell – the brothers were fierce opponents, fighting it out for a place in the final; defender versus attacker.

But the dull reality is they each had very little to do in this game.

Diego, with all of his goal-scoring might that season, was given a more defensive role in attack alongside Eto’o, using his height and strength to provoke Barca’s defenders.

Meanwhile, Gabi was being played out of position as a full-back.

The happier of the Milito’s

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The happier of the Milito’s

Of course, it was Diego who went onto play in that year’s final and stole the show against Munich, but it wasn’t all bad for Gabriel – who lifted the trophy himself a year later him, albeit through a lesser role as Barca’s back-line backup.

But for one half in the 2010 Champions League semi-final, two brothers were forced to put glory before blood, as their sibling became an intriguing sideshow in one of the greatest clashes in European football history.


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