Champions League semi-finals: AC Milan and Inter face off in most important derby in twenty years

It’s a derby that could change the course of the season, and, perhaps, history.

On Wednesday at 21:00 CET, football giants AC Milan and Inter Milan take to the San Siro pitch in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, aiming to reach the 10 June Istanbul final against Real Madrid or Man City.

The game has broken all-time sales records in Italian football, with a matchday income in excess of €10 million. More than 76,000 tickets were sold, some of which were going for nearly €3,200 on the second-hand market.

It’s going to be a 100% Milanese duel and a much-awaited replay of the dramatic 2003 Champions League derby, when a goal by Ukrainian prodigy Andry Shevchenko sent the Rossoneri to the final. How is it going to go this time?

Inter defender Iván Córdoba tackles AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko in the UCL semi-final in Milan on May 13, 2003

Bookmakers are giving an edge to Inter in light of their latest results, like clinching the Coppa Italia final and beating Jose Mourinho’s Roma. The gap widened further after an injury by AC Milan’s star Rafael Leão, a key player in the Champions League victory over Napoli, who won’t be part of the starting eleven.

In the Serie A, Inter are just two points ahead of Milan. Both teams are fighting for a Champions League spot and won one derby each. Inter however triumphed 3-0 over Milan in the Supercup final in January. 

Having said that, as Inter’s Federico Di Marco put it: “Derbies are games apart, there is no favourite”.

High fever in the run-up to the game

Milan has been bustling with fans all week, some of them coming from as far as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait as well as Northern Ireland and England.

Many of those who didn’t make it to get a ticket will watch the game in the local bars, like the Mind the Gap, a traditional go-to for Milanese football fans, which houses sports memorabilia as well as hosting Subbuteo tournaments.

Matteo Serafini, the owner, told Euronews that they “sold all reservations in a matter of hours after they advertised the event”. So much so, that they planned to add a hundred seats “on the street” on top of the 70 places inside the bar.

Champions League precedents: Inter seeking to avenge the ‘Derby of Shame’

AC Milan has knocked out Inter every time they faced off in the Champions League. 

The first time, in 2003, AC Milan went through after two draws (0-0 and 1-1), thanks to away goals. The second time, in 2005, Inter lost the first leg 2-0, and then got disqualified in the return game after pyrotechnics were thrown onto the pitch by their fans, in what became infamously known as “The Derby of Shame”. 

It was the last time they clashed in the Champions League.

Who’s more successful between AC Milan and Inter

Both teams have an extraordinary track record in both Italian and international competitions. AC Milan have won 49 official trophies, while Inter have won 43. 

When it comes to Champions Leagues, the gap is bigger: AC Milan has lifted seven, only Real Madrid has done better, while Inter have “only” won three. The number of national league titles is the same, 19 each.

Inter have a better record for head-to-heads, with 87 wins over AC Milan, while the Rossoneri had it in the Derby 79 times. Also, Inter are the only Italian club never relegated, while AC Milan sloped into the “Serie B” inferno twice.

Inter fans’ joy outside San Siro, in Milan, after the conquest of their 19th national title, May 8, 2021

AC Milan fans celebrate winning their 19th Serie A title on May 22, 2022

Why locals call it ‘Derby della Madonnina’

The Milan derby is one of the most important derbies in Italy, certainly the most relevant in terms of club history.

It’s called “Derby della Madonnina ” because of one of the symbols of Milan, the Madonnina. the Little Virgin Mary that since 1774 guards the city of Milan from the top of the Duomo Cathedral.

Milan’s symbol, the Madonnina (Little Virgin Mary), peaking 108 metres atop the Duomo, Milan’s catherdal

One last dance in San Siro?

One more reason to watch the game is this could be the last big match hosted at San Siro, one of the most iconic football venues in Europe. 

Built in 1925, the stadium has become more and more difficult to renovate, and tenants Inter and Milan are thinking of leaving it to build their respective private stadiums outside the city centre.

The fear of a potential dismissal or even demolition of San Siro urged local communities and investors to put forward several proposals to keep it running.

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