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Giancarlo Rinaldi On April - 1 - 2011

Rinaldi Reminisces: Milan Inter

Serie A Weekly is proud to present another episode of this beautifully written feature from well known and respected journalist Giancarlo Rinaldi

The Milanese derby’s darkest night

It is one of the most iconic snapshots of the Italian game. Inter’s Marco Materazzi leans on the shoulder of Milan’s Manuel Rui Costa as the pair of them gaze in disbelief or bemusement at what is unfolding before their eyes. Fireworks rain down upon the pitch of the San Siro in a scene more reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno than a Champions League encounter.

It was a night which did little for the reputation of the city or the nation as a whole. That image, or something similar, was flashed around the planet for all to see. The following day, everyone wanted to know if that was typical of Serie A in general and Milanese derbies in particular.

The answer, of course, was no. The two sides do, however, share a mutual and deep dislike. The message en route to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza is a pretty simple one no matter which team is at home. It flutters on flags and scarves at the stalls which line the way to one of European football’s major theatres. “Odio il mio cugino” is the battle cry which splits the city of Milan - I hate my cousin.

The reasons for this familial disrespect are not so hard to comprehend. Both Rossoneri and Nerazzurri have proud domestic, European and international traditions stretching back for decades. Their high-stakes clashes over the years are the kind of encounters liable to breed a little contempt. The fact that they share the same stadium has only made things worse.

Like two surly siblings who simply cannot get along, the success of their rivals has driven each team to greater heights. Milan were the first Italian side to win the European Cup, Inter responded with back-to-back triumphs. The Rossoneri swept all before them under Arrigo Sacchi, the Nerazzurri completed an historic treble under Jose Mourinho. And their Scudetto squabbles are simply too numerous to mention.

Even in this long and bitter history, however, that one clash which brought the Matrix and Rui Costa together in a famous image may well have been the most venomous encounter ever. In the 2004/05 season the UEFA Champions League set the pair on a collision course which saw their trajectories coincide at the quarter-final stage. The stakes have rarely been higher.

The red-and-black half of the divide undoubtedly had the greater reason for confidence going into the two-legged showdown. Their recent European pedigree dwarfed the achievements of the boys in blue-and-black who had to look back more than 35 years for their last triumph. It only served to make their desire to triumph even greater.

Both teams had been impressive on their way to that stage of the tournament. Milan won a group containing Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic while Inter saw off Werder Bremen, Valencia and Anderlecht. In the last 16, the Nerazzurri defeated Porto and the Rossoneri beat Manchester United home and away to set up their clash in the last eight. That was when all hell broke loose.

Milan won the “home” leg 2-0 thanks to goals from Jaap Stam and, almost inevitably in those days, Andriy Shevchenko. It meant Roberto Mancini’s men had their work cut out to turn things around a week later. They tried hard in a game that simmered with nasty tackles, histrionics and temperamental outbursts almost from the outset. But when Sheva struck again on the half hour mark, it looked like the game was over.

To be fair to Inter, they gave a huge effort to try to get back into contention. However, the goal would not come and their frustration grew greater and greater. Hard as it might seem to believe to those who only saw the tail-end of his Rossoneri days, Brazilian goalkeeper Dida was outstanding in thwarting the opposition attack.

Matters eventually became too much for some Interisti to take about 70 minutes into the match. When an Esteban Cambiasso header was ruled out for a pretty soft-looking foul on the goalkeeper, bottles battered down on the Milan goalmouth. Worse was to follow as fireworks started to shower into the penalty area. Almost inevitably, one of them struck Dida.

He was replaced, but the game could not go on. In surreal scenes, Milan half-celebrated their place in the semi-finals but not with anything like the gusto they had enjoyed beating Inter in the last four of the competition a couple of years earlier. The game was awarded 3-0 to the Rossoneri, Inter were fined and banned from their home ground for four games.

“Those were sorry scenes that are hard to understand” said Carlo Ancelotti. “I have never seen anything like it. It is bad for Inter and it is bad for the whole city of Milan. I think it’s a question of culture but TV plays its part too. We can’t stay here and talk about referees and slow-motion replays all the time.”

“The fans’ anger after Cambiasso’s goal was disallowed was understandable,” said Inter’s Ivan Cordoba. “But there can be no justification for throwing objects onto the pitch. I am sorry for applauding the ref ironically when he suspended the game, it was an instinctive reaction. But I still don’t know how he disallowed that goal, even he couldn’t explain it - he said there was a foul on Dida but he couldn’t remember who had committed it.”

Inter fans got their consolation via Liverpool when the Anfield side came back from three goals down to defeat the Rossoneri in the Champions League final that year. But Milan would bounce back to take the trophy a couple of years later. Only five years on from that terrible quarter-final would Inter finally win a trophy they had dreamed of for so long.

Thankfully, there have been plenty of other Milanese derbies which have produced more edifying action. They stand as examples of some of the finest matches any club should aspire to. But that European clash of six years ago remains one which nobody – not least the clubs involved – would ever want to emulate.

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