Inter Milan’s Edin Dzeko, right, scores his team’s opening goal during the Champions League semifinal first leg match between AC Milan and Inter Milan at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, on May 10, 2023 | Photo Credit: AP
Inter Milan overcame AC Milan early and won the first leg of their Champions League semifinal derby 2-0 on Wednesday, leaving the Nerazzurri on the brink of a return to European football’s showpiece event for the first time since 2010.
Edin Džeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored two goals in three minutes to put Inter firmly in command and the visitors could add more to a dominant first-half performance.
“We had an extraordinary first half, the scoreline was tighter than it should have been, with what we created,” said Inter coach Simone Inzaghi. “Men are really good at managing such an emotional battle.
“We have to continue like this. We know that we are only one step away from the dream we believed in from August until now.”
The second leg is on Tuesday, on what is sure to be another special European night at the San Siro. The winner will face either Real Madrid or Manchester City, who drew their first leg 1-1.
“I know my team, I know my players, I know we can do better. I know that Inter is a very strong team, but we are not inferior. Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. “It will be a tough night mentally for both teams, the last chance to make it to the final.
“We have a chance to put them in difficulty, score goals, try to get it back on track … We have to give everything we have – talent and heart – to turn around a situation that has been difficult but not impossible.”
Rafael Leao’s absence is felt
Milan are missing key forward Rafael Leão, who has not yet fully recovered from a thigh injury sustained at the weekend.
There was an electric atmosphere at San Siro for the semifinal dubbed the “Euroderby” in Italy.
The two clubs met in the Champions League last four 20 years ago – with Milan winning on away goals and beating Juventus in the final for a sixth of seven titles.
Several members of the teams from 2003 were in the stands, including tennis great Novak Djokovic, who is a Milan fan.
Milan were shocked by Inter’s fast start
The match was expected to be tight and tight but Inter got off to the perfect start when they took the lead in the eighth minute. Hakan Çalhanoğlu whipped in a corner from the left and Džeko managed to get in front of Davide Calabria to curl a volley into the top right corner.
And Inter doubled its lead just three minutes later. Federico Dimarco’s low pass was cleverly left by Lautaro Martínez for Mkhitaryan to lift Mike Maignan.
Milan have conceded just one goal in their last six Champions League matches.
Incredibly, Inter almost scored a third five minutes later but Çalhanoğlu’s long-range effort came off the right post.
The Milan players were shocked but eventually recovered and had their first attempt on goal on the half hour mark but Calabria hit the side netting.
Seconds later, Inter were awarded a penalty for a foul by Simon Kjær on Martínez but the referee reversed his decision after reviewing the incident on the pitchside monitor.
Milan improved after the break and shot towards the end full of its fans, in a sea of red and black.
Brahim Díaz curled wide of the left post early on but Inter were almost out of sight moments later. There was no closing in on Alessandro Bastoni and he put the ball through to Džeko but Maignan somehow blocked the shot with his foot.
The Rossoneri should have pulled one back in the 63rd minute but Sandro Tonali’s effort went wide of the left post.
In the previous round, Inter beat Benfica 2-0 in Portugal before playing out a 3-3 draw at the San Siro.
“It’s obviously a derby, so it’s more emotional,” Inzaghi said. “The lads know we have to do exactly what we did against Benfica: not thinking about managing the match, but playing our own game, with the quality we showed on the field.”