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'We Had Six Days Of Total Tension': Remembering The Biggest Ever Milan Derby

Dylan O'Connell
By Dylan O'Connell
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The road to Istanbul will go through Milan; with Inter and AC set to face off in the Champions League semi-finals.

The fourth and fifth Derby della Madonnina of the season will decide who travels to the biggest game that club football has to offer, and it will seal the bragging rights of one of the complex rivalries in Italian football.

Inter were born from a split with AC, but there’s no clear division between the two groups of supporters. Their split isn’t exactly political, socioeconomic, or cultural. There’s a lot more to it than the traditional tent poles of most inter-city derbies.

One thing is certain is that the blue and black side of Milan will be desperate for some sort of vengeance over what happened in 2003; when AC won on away goals and went on to beat Juventus in the final at Old Trafford.

20 years ago saw two teams compete as they, unknowingly, prepared to enter dual eras of success. AC would contest three of the next five Champions League finals and Inter were about to become serial winners of Seria A, a run that would accumulate in the first ever treble for an Italian team.

This set up a collision course for two teams that were eager to enter the new millennium after a decade of intermittent successes. AC were the team of the early 1990s but they tailed off after their hammering of Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League final. Inter won three UEFA Cups in ten years with a studded team that included Ronaldo but they never replicated that success domestically.


The end of the decade saw sides from Rome come out and shake up the Italian, and European map.


The Italian Galácticos



2003 was a Year Zero for a new era with AC just getting started with a team that would be considered Galácticos if they played in Spain. Coached by Carlos Ancelotti, their squad included Clarence Seedorf, Rivaldo, Fernando Redondo, Leonardo, and Paolo Maldini. Alessandro Nesta was also a member of the team after joining from the all-conquering Lazio team of 1998-2000.

Inter’s team included just two veterans from their last UEFA Cup success, Javier Zanetti and Álvaro Recoba.

Before all of this was allowed to happen, the two teams had to qualify for the competition proper. Inter comfortably beat Sporting CP during the formative rounds of the Champions League, and AC needed  away goals to get the better of Czech side Slovan Liberec.


Once the tournament proper started, both teams cruised through and topped their respective groups. Inter finished ahead of Ajax, Lyon, and Rosenborg. AC had to deal with Deportivo de La Coruña, Bayern Munich, and Lens.

They also came through the second group stage to qualify for the quarter finals, with both teams comfortably navigating the mini tournament that was played from November to February.

AC Milan beat Ajax in the quarter finals and Valencia were knocked out of the competition on away goals by Inter.


Suddenly a continental competition was all about one city, with the two Milan teams set to scrap it out for a place in the final.


The Biggest Derby Of Them All 



Maldini was 37-years-old and he had played in five Champions League finals before that campaign started. This semi-final took on a whole new dimension for the seasoned professional, who was almost entirely consumed by the derby.

"It was a short week: Wednesday to Tuesday, we had six days of total tension," he told UEFA.

The first game didn’t live up to the billing, it was a stalemate. This meant that progression rested on the return led in the same stadium.


It would take something special to break the deadlock, and that’s what Andriy Shevchenko did in the first minute of time added on to the first half. He managed to get the ball over the Inter the goalkeeper and in from a seemingly impossible angle, and that gave AC Milan the advantage and an away goal.

Obafemi Martins burrowed through and equalised for Inter with just six minutes remaining. I Nerazzurri needed one more to go through to the final and the chance fell to Mohammed Kallon, who found himself facing Christian Abbiati.

The goalkeeper was deputising for an injured Dida and he manged to get a knee to the shot. The ball went out of play and the referee blew for full-time a few seconds later, sending AC Milan through to the Champions League final.

Their day out in Manchester ended in a penalty shoot-out victory over Juventus. It is a game best remembered for not actually being a good game, and The Old Lady missing three penalties in the shoot-out.

The 2003 final ended up as the start of the second great era for Serie A. While the Italian game did get engulfed in controversy from 2004 onwards, memories of those great European  sides stand up with AC Milan’s run in 2003 being seen as a piece of raw sporting beauty.


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