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Sport

Eto'o can etch his name in Champions League history

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When Samuel Eto'o says that "it's not all about the glory of goals," one has to sit up and take notice. For someone who has made the top scorer's charts in the last decade as comfortably as the Beatles did in the sixties, either the statement is an attempt at flawed modesty or it is profound realisation.

The Cameroonian was talking about Englishman Wayne Rooney while making up his favourite XI in an interview, but it could well have been about himself.

If one shifts focus to the Champions League semifinal at Camp Nou, Eto'o's work ethic on that night will show that the Inter Milan striker meant every word he said. Throughout that fateful night for Barcelona, when Diego Milito went down with cramps, Eto'o chased the ball and the Barca men down till they were out.

Standing on the threshold of history - an opportunity beckoning to become the only man in the modern Champions League to score in three finals - Eto'o really can talk about being something more than a striker. When Inter were down to 10 men that semifinal evening, and the defending champions pressing relentlessly, the former Barca goal-poacher finished the game playing as left back, and doing rather well at it.

But first, the goals. It was a simple right-footed push past substituted Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia to neutralise Sol Campbell's lead in 2006, and then three years later, a vicious toe-poke that went in before Manchester United's Edwin van der Sar and the watching world could even understand what happened. Both the goals were scored when Eto'o was in Barcelona's claret and blue shirt.

The first one brought a sigh of relief on Frank Rijkaard's face and more recently it was Pep Guardiola who jumped out in surprised glee from the dugout. Will it be Jose Mourinho's turn this Saturday?

If Eto'o's career graph is any indication, he is not the one to let go of an occasion to make history. If he is a team player, he is also a first-rate poacher whose blood often blinds his senses once inside the 18-yard box - every loose ball, every half-chance is his for the taking, his striking partner be damned. Inside the area, Eto'o seems to be possessed by a demon.

The burst of a panther, the strength of a tiger and the ferocity of an indoctrinated sniper ooze out of the supreme athlete once a Xavi or a Ronaldinho or, in the current scenario, a Wesley Sneijder picks him out on the run.

A straight swap saw Barcelona and Inter exchange their talismanic spearheads and as Zlatan Ibrahimovic left San Siro, Eto'o - the darling of the Nou Camp till not long ago - became a part of Mourinho's newly collated stars at the start of the season. Diego Milito and Thiago Motta came from Genoa, Lucio flew in from Germany and an 'unused' Sneijder from Real Madrid.

It took the bullheaded Portuguese to get the multicultural conglomeration functioning as a unit. His days with Chelsea, where his team looked like a virtual United Nations summit, surely helped him .

With just one match day left in the European season, Inter have stunned their fans as well as detractors not only in Italy but the world over. Completing the Italian double, the Nerazzuri are awaiting to topple a Bayern Munich - without Franck Ribery - to make it a historic treble.

Facing elimination in the group stages, it was Eto'o who calmed the nerves against Rubin Kazan. At Stamford Bride, the Special One's erstwhile office, the No. 9 again put Inter through to the semifinals.

Then came Barcelona once more. They had met in the group stages and were taught a captivating lesson in fantasy football. The revenge had a touch of sweet finality over two legs. Though Eto'o didn't score, his presence was overtly felt. Chasing the steam out of Lionel Messi at Nou Camp, acting as a foil to Javier Zanetti whose sole purpose was to stop Barca's talismanic Argentinean at any cost, Eto'o made man-marking look as if it's the only thing he had learnt.

The lingering image of the game was Eto'o blocking Messi's run down the right touch to earn a throw-in deep into the second session and without caring to pick up the ball, running to take his position near the centreline.
Not going for glory. Just suppressing the instinct that he is born with and one that made him one of the most feared names in the defending fraternity of his time.

"He attacks, he defends too," is the new Eto'o of Mourinho's Inter. But he knows his time will come. Again. And most likely, it will be on Saturday.

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