The Milan derby is a game that all Serie A fans look out for when the fixture list is released at the start of the season. There are few greater spectacles in football than the Derby della Madonnina being played out in front of 80,000 supporters at San Siro.
In 2007, this clash stood out on the calendar even more than usual. Sunday 23 December. The final game before Christmas. Who would head into the New Year with the bragging rights?
The form book suggested there was a clear favourite in the contest. Having romped to the title by 22 points in the previous campaign, Inter had continued to dominate domestically in the opening months of the 2007/08 season. The Nerazzurri were unbeaten in their opening 16 league matches, and had opened up a seven-point lead over nearest challengers, Roma.
Meanwhile, Milan had started their season in far less impressive fashion. Carlo Ancelotti’s side were languishing in eighth place, and had four losses on their record, including a surprise home defeat against Empoli.
Still, this was a Milan side packed with quality. Only seven months earlier they had lifted their seventh European Cup, edging past Liverpool 2-1 in the final. They were capable of matching any side on their day. Could they upset the odds and end Inter’s undefeated streak?
The early signs were that they could. After all, a team containing the likes of Filippo Inzaghi, Paolo Maldini and Andrea Pirlo can never be written off.
Within 18 minutes, the latter had produced a moment of sheer class. Milan were awarded a inside the ‘D’ and there was only one man who was going to take it. Up stepped Pirlo, and with a graceful swing of his right boot, he fired the ball over the wall and into the top corner. Inter’s goalkeeper Julio Cesar was left rooted to the spot. There was nothing he could have done. Inter were behind.
It was an unfamiliar position for Roberto Mancini’s men to find themselves in. They had only been behind twice all season, and not since round four when they rescued a point at Livorno. With all due respect to Livorno, Milan were a different proposition altogether.
Yet this was an Inter side who had no intention of wilting against their biggest rivals. Just minutes later, they were almost level. Dida failed to deal with Julio Cruz’ cross, leaving Luis Jimenez with the goal at his mercy. From a tight angle, Jimenez struck a sweet half-volley towards the unguarded goal, only to see his effort come back off the crossbar.
It was a major let-off for Milan. The warning signs were there but Milan did not heed them. In a derby clash filled with passion and physicality – six bookings were handed out in the first half – it was Inter who were starting to gain the upper hand. In the 36th minute, they got their reward.
Despite being surrounded by multiple opponents, Zlatan Ibrahimovic shrugged off his markers on the left flank and laid the ball back to Esteban Cambiasso. The Argentinian midfielder squared the ball to Cruz, who created half a yard of space inside the penalty area and slammed his shot beyond a host of defenders and into the bottom corner.
Honours were even at the break with everything to play for. Perhaps that explained why the second half started so tentatively. Neither team wanted to make a fatal mistake. Who would blink first?
20 minutes into the second half, we had our answer. Julio Cruz’s innocuous cross was poorly headed away by Maldini to the edge of the area. Cambiasso was the first to react, pouncing on the loose ball and unleashing a volley towards goal. It was a well-struck shot, but one that should have been saved by Dida. Instead, the South American shot-stopper inexplicably dived over the ball, gifting Cambiasso just his second goal of the season. It could hardly have come at a more important moment. Was there any way back for Milan?
The Rossoneri refused to give in, as Kaka’s long-range volley was expertly turned away by Cesar. They were to go even closer shortly afterwards.
A cross from the left wing eluded Inter’s defence, and with Massimo Ambrosini racing towards the six-yard box at pace, he seemed destined to score. Unfortunately for him, he failed to make contact as the ball squirmed past his desperate lunge and harmlessly away from goal.
It was a fitting example of the fine margins in this game. Milan could easily have earned themselves a point, but a matter of inches meant that they were to finish the match empty-handed.
The final whistle was met with jubilation by Inter’s player and fans. Despite having a seemingly insurmountable lead at the top of the table, they still did not want to drop points to their bitter rivals.
Come the end of the season, this would prove to be an important victory. Inter stuttered in the second half of the campaign, losing to Napoli, Juventus and the reverse fixture against Milan. This meant that they did not wrap up the title until the final day when they beat Parma 2-0.
Although they were not always the easiest on the eye, Inter got the job done. That was also the case in this match. In a typically gritty derby contest, Inter had done just enough to win this Christmas cracker, confirming their domestic supremacy in the process.
Words by: Sam Brookes. @sambrookes3177