Inter Milan notched a 2-1 derby victory at the San Siro over their counterpart, AC Milan. It is no wonder that a single goal separates both teams. Inter top the Serie A table with the best defense, having conceded a miserly 9 goals in 17 matches while Milan boast the second best defense with 12 goals in 14 matches.
This match was highly anticipated since Milan, already master of Europe from their Champions League glory, enjoyed a fruitful year as world champions by defeating Boca Juniors to lift the Club World Cup in Tokyo last week.
Their playmaker Kaka, was also crowned World Player of the Year by FIFA. On the other hand, Inter are unbeaten on the domestic front and enjoy a 22-point lead over Milan, though the latter has 3 matches in hand.
Despite their success, Inter formed a guard of honor to pay homage to their record-breaking rivals on the field. Inter coach Roberto Mancini did not feel it was humiliating, saying: “That wasn’t forced on us, it came naturally and I think it was deserved.”
Inter indicated their desire to trump their rivals with the first chance of the match after barely five minutes when Zlatan Ibrahimovic volleyed over the bar. They had greater possession and were applying steady pressure with many of their outfield players camped in Milan’s half of the pitch. Nevertheless, Milan’s fortress held firm as they adopted a sit and absorb strategy which made them extremely dangerous on the counter-attack.
Against the run of play, Filippo Inzaghi earned a free-kick on the edge of the box on 18 minutes after Ivan Cordoba dragged him down. Andrea Pirlo stepped up to curl in a wicked shot into the top corner.
That sparked Inter into action and the players pressed with greater urgency to break the duck. The equalizer nearly came two minutes later when Luis Jimenez shaved the bar with a shot from an impossible angle, courtesy of a cross from Argentine forward Julio Cruz.
Inter’s efforts were rewarded 10 minutes before the break in a moment of incisiveness as Ibrahimovic and Esteban Cambiasso passed the ball to Cruz, who did extremely well under pressure from Clarence Seedorf, by firing low past Brazilian goalkeeper Dida.
The second half again belonged largely to Inter as they dominated the proceedings. A seemingly innocuous shot from Cambiasso sent Dida the wrong way on 64 minutes to give the hosts the lead.
Towards the end, Milan roared back into life and stamped their authority on the match. They had more than enough chances to force a draw. Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar was fully stretched as he turned away Kaka’s diagonal drive. Emerson and Massimo Ambrosini then both missed gilt edged chances to equalize as anxiety crept into Inter’s game in the final moments.
The remarkable aspect of Inter’s victory was their indomitable spirit despite an injury plagued season, particularly in midfield. Already counting the loss of midfielders Dejan Stankovic, Patrick Vieira, Luis Figo, and Oliver Dacourt, they paid a heavy price when defender Walter Samuel suffered a ligament damage and could be out for the rest of the season. The consolation is Marco Materazzi’s return from injury which may alleviate the deficiency in midfield.
In fact, Inter was so depleted of resources that their starting 11 consist of nine South Americans and not a single Italian while Milan fielded seven Italian internationals. Ironically, this made them live up to their full name Internazionale.
Regardless of the players’ nationality, Inter showed enough championship form to mount a sustained challenge on Serie A. Once their injured players are back, their full strength is breathtaking in depth and quality and they can look forward to extending their lead at the top.
Indeed, Inter can take heart from their ability to consolidate their position as they opened up a seven-point lead from the pack. “It’s very important to reach the winter break with a seven-point lead on the second-placed team, particularly with all the problems we’ve had,” Mancini told Sky Sport television.
Ancelotti’s hopes of clawing back some points are dashed with this defeat and they are now 25 points behind Inter and in 12th position. But he remained upbeat since the final minutes of the game was very encouraging and the match could have swung his way if he had a bit more luck.
“We’re lacking a point in the standings because a draw would have been a fairer result,” he said. “But we’ll still have a good Christmas as we’re world champions.”
Inter are not getting carried away despite knocking the world champions off their perch. It is merely three points and not the finals yet. Inter captain Javier Zanetti hailed the victory but insisted hopes of Inter winning the title is premature.
“We are aware of our strengths but we have to show it in every match. Scudetto? It’s too soon. There are many matches to be played, it will be important continuing in this way,” Zanetti said.
Overall, this match is not the most exciting of football but it was never meant to be. For fans who are avid students of the Italian art of defense, they will appreciate the technical displays and tactics from two of the best teams in Serie A.
I struggled to watch the entire 90 minutes but I could have been too tired from all the pre-Christmas shopping. Still, I did tape the match, it is a classic, if I cannot glean anything from it, at least it will work wonders for those sleepless nights. Till tomorrow, guys.