Three weeks ago, at the end of the 3-2 match lost to Juventus (Matchday 33) Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti had declared: “Our objective for the rest of the season, in order to qualify for Champions League, will be to win all of our next 5 matches“. With the important fixture vs. Inter in the Rossoneri’s calendar, this was much easier said than done… but what do you know? AC Milan might just have achieved their objective.
To quote Gazzetta, some people had already nicknamed this title ‘The Scudetto of Hardships’ (more or less a translation of Lo Scudetto della fatica), and that may be why Inter continue to make things harder for them. 2 years and 18 days since their last derby victory, AC Milan have reclaimed the “Derby della Madonnina” and made a key step towards Champions League qualification. Indeed with the concurrent loss of Fiorentina at Cagliari, the Rossoneri now find themselves in 4th spot with a 1-point advantage over La Viola. In other words: their destiny is entirely in their own hands.
As for Inter well… it will take nothing short of a Roman miracle for the Nerazzurri to lose their grip on the Scudetto (on account of their head-to-head record with AS Roma, a win to Siena next week will effectively seal the deal for Roberto Mancini’s team), but today’s loss is certainly very sour. Is it a coincidence that when Filippo Inzaghi scores on Inter (today was the 4th time it happened), Il Diavolo always ends up victorious?
(From Gazzetta): MILAN, 4 May 2008 - The first exchange of opinions came from the fans. On one side, Interisti mocking the unavoidability of the AC Milan situation: seeing Inter triumph in Serie A again and perhaps miss out on the Champions League (“Oggi puoi dire quello che ti pare ma il tuo incubo si sta per realizzare” or translated: “Today say whatever you want, your worst nightmare is about to come true”). On the other, a real spoilsport motto exposed by AC Milan’s ’Curva Sud’: a big banner with the message “Even in the year of the centennial celebration… always the same scenario” (“Anche nell’anno del centenario… sempre il solito scenario“) and the Champions League final date (May 21), alongside an obviously drunk Homer Simpson character, watching TV. Hanging on the wall: a badly shaped and damaged Scudetto. Any reference to Inter’s Champions League elimination this year is entirely and purely… intentional.
Oh and by the way, I know: it sounds a lot better in Italian, and whoever translated the banners on the Gazzetta in English site needs to be flogged. Repeatedly. But I digress.
These fan banners, on top of outlining the creativity and rhyming ability of ultrà fans, were a good representative of the great tension running at San Siro before today’s match. In a derby, show & technique comes second to winning at all costs, and this kind of approach was probably the reason why Roberto Mancini opted to leave out Mario Balotelli, in favor of pure strikers Julio Cruz and Hernan Crespo. Interestingly enough, on such an important day the Nerazzurri manager gave a chance to the “bench warmers” (the aformentioned Crespo, plus Maniche for the injured Stankovic), an approach quite different from that of Carlo Ancelotti. Indeed, the AC Milan manager didn’t make a single change in regards to the expected line-up, relying instead on experience and technique of his (aging) veterans.
DOUBLE PIPPO CHANCES - It was a sea of red and black on the San Siro stands today, with Rossoneri fans clearly dominating their Nerazzurri counterpartts and celebrating every good play created by their team, be it a corner-kick or a goal. It was also a game of fair play, as evidenced by Crespo’s admission to referee Roberto Rosetti that he didn’t deserve a corner-kick. Nice to see stuff like this, especially in a derby.
Now, there weren’t many scoring opportunities in the first 45 minutes, but if there was any team that was dominating the play it was AC Milan. Determined to win the game, the Rossoneri were attacking convicingly out of their own half, and even Daniele Bonera (usually occupying more of a defensive role) was openly challenging Cristian Chivu and creating good chances through the opponent’s defence. Fortunately for Inter, Julio Cesar kept a close guard, especially when the Brazilian goalkeeper made a great save by stopping a short-range Inzaghi finish, three meters away from goal. Super Pippo obtained yet another chance before the half ended, hitting the post on a Seedorf-inspired and Kaká-assisted play from the right wing.
DOUBLE STRIKE – 4 minutes from the end of the half, Giuseppe Favalli picked up a knockand was forced off in favor of Marek Jankulovski. On his part, Roberto Mancini decided not to make any substitutions, confident that Maicon would quickly recover from his limping injury and that his defence would keep a tight lock on the fort. Oh, silly Mancini…
In the 47th minute, Patrick Vieira almost scored on his own goal to deflect Gattuso’s shot, while 2 minutes later Massimo Ambrosini‘s header barely missed the target. A prelude for things to come, because in minute 51 came the goal putting a damper on Inter’s hopes: Kaká broke through along the goal line, finding enough space to avoid Materazzi and center towards Filippo Inzaghi‘s head. The noggin of Super Pippo connected with the ball from short range, and put the Rossoneri in the lead. 1-0 AC Milan.
Inter went haywire, and not even 5 minutes later two consecutive passing errors cost them the second goal: Patrick Vieira lost the ball to Kaká on the right wing, enabling Kaká to get within shooting range and place an accurate instep past fellow Auriverde Julio Cesar. 2-0 AC Milan, and big joy in the San Siro stands.
Two goals down, Inter decided it was time to stick the head out of the hole. It went something like this: Maniche kicks the ball, his shot is deflected by Kalac; Crespo is in the right place, his shot deflected by Kalac; Maicon picks up rebound, his shot is deflected by Kalac. No doubt about it: Milan and their Australian goalkeeper seemed to be in control, and it took all of 20 minutes in the second half before Mancini finally realized it was time for Turbo Mario. Indeed, with Balotelli on the field Inter seemed somewhat to regain their fighting spirit, and they were also aided by good fortune (and Kalac’s poor placement) on Julio Cruz‘s 25-yard free-kick delivery. 2-1.
After a few plays worth of inclusion into the highlights reel (a Bonera-Suazo clash where Rosetti gave the advantage to Milan; followed by a Marco Materazzi fall in the penalty area, not called by the referee), Andrea Pirlo came very close to tasting the 3-1 goal. Alas his kick from a great position was stopped by Julio Cesar, as the Brazilian goalkeeper kept Inter alive yet again. Tensions increased almost to breaking point, and Adriano Galliani’s hair (the few he has left on the head) must have turned white when Alexandre Pato (on for Inzaghi) lost possession with 20 seconds to go, and enabled Inter to get a free-kick right on the edge of the Milan box. Cristian Chivu‘s set-piece delivery went sky high however, much like Inter’s dreams of celebrating a Scudetto against their cousin arch-rivals.
The lead over Roma is now reduced by 50% with two more rounds to go: nothing is lost really, but a Serie A epilogue as close as this one was unthinkable just a few weeks ago. Inter will have some more sweating to do for this Scudetto…
|GOALSCORERS: 51’ F.Inzaghi (M), 56’ Kaká (M), 75’ Cruz (I)|
|MILAN (4-3-2-1): Kalac – Bonera, Nesta, Favalli (41’ Jankulovski) – Gattuso (66’ Brocchi), Pirlo, Ambrosini – Kaká, Seedorf – F.Inzaghi (76’ Pato). (bench: Fiori, Oddo, Serginho, Gilardino). Coach: Ancelotti.|
|INTER (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Rivas (80’ Maxwell), Materazzi, Chivu – Vieira, Cambiasso, J.Zanetti – Maniche (65’ Balotelli) – Cruz, Crespo (72’ Suazo). (bench: Toldo, Burdisso, Pelé, Jiménez). Coach: R.Mancini|