A few famous pictures can sum up Marco Materrazi’s historic career: being headbutted by Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Final, a teary embrace with Jose Mourinho after completing the treble in 2010 and lifting the World Cup alongside a legendary collection of Italian stars. One picture, however, stands out from the crowd, both in aesthetic and significance. It was taken in 2005, against the smokey red backdrop of an electric San Siro as flares lit up the capital city in a second leg of a Champions League quarter-final. The game was halted for safety reasons as security and firefighters scrambled pitchside. It was then that photographers captured a shot for the ages as Materrazi leaned on the shoulder of rival Rui Costa, together watching the chaos unfold.
This was the last time Inter and A.C Milan met in the Champions League. The pair haven’t reached the semi-final stage in over a decade. Their last appearances, in 2005 and 2007, were also the last time they won the competition. Even this year, the matchup looked unlikely with Luciano Spaletti’s Napoli being tipped to end A.C Milan’s run. The absence of Victor Osimhen in the first leg and a moment of brilliance from Rafael Leão in the 2nd confirmed the classic Italian showdown.
Inter, on the other hand, had a more comfortable matchup against Benfica in the quarter-finals despite an enthralling 3-3 in the San Siro. 5-3 winners on aggregate courtesy of goals from Barella booked the Nerazurri’s place in the last four.
Unlike 2005’s star-studded cast which included the likes of Kaká, Pirlo, Gattuso, Maldini, and Zanetti, this Milan derby has a blend of youth and experienced players looking to leave a mark on the great legacy of these teams. Inter’s front two of Edin Dzeko and Argentine World Cup winner Lautaro Martinez are perfect complements. Behind them, a balanced midfield is anchored by Brozovic, one of Croatia’s finest midfielders in a generation that has also produced players like Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modriç.
A.C. Milan has their own arsenal of talent. France’s all-time leading scorer Oliver Giroud will play alongside Brahim Díaz and Leão whose breathtaking run past through Napoli’s team in the 2nd leg left many speechless. Goalkeeper Mike Maignan has earned the nickname “Magic Mike” through consistent performances and jaw-dropping saves. Having been brought in to replace the generational talent of Gigio Donnarumma, expectations were high and the former Lille keeper has delivered.
In a year when one semi-final clash follows the usual script of serial winners Real Madrid coming up against an Erling Haaland-inspired Manchester City, the Milan derby is a breath of fresh air that guarantees an Italian finalist. The beautiful game has its way of signaling the end and beginning of cycles and could this year mark the revival of these historically decorated and now freshly enthused Italian icons.