The Coppa Italia quarter-final war on Tuesday night was the most deserving occasion for a crowded stadium, filled with passionate supporters who rock San Siro to the tune of love and hate, since the start of our “unprecedented times”.
Milan and Inter put on a real spectacle in the Derby della Madonnina, producing 100 minutes of thrilling action that not only left us on the edge of our sofas, but also temporarily placed the Ultras and die-hard fans’ absence to the back of our minds.
And on a moody and fiery evening in Italy, where ugly words spoke briefly louder than deeds, the scores were finally settled with a triumphant photo released on the final whistle.
It was I Nerazzurri and Romelu Lukaku who emerged victorious from this massive clash, beating Milan 2-1 thanks to a 97th-minute strike from Christian Eriksen.
The contest had everything to please: passionate drama, goals of the talismans, fall from grace for both, red card, ten minutes delay for an injured referee and a latecomer, late redeem the winner from a major misfit.
While Coppa Italia is certainly not the Milan duo’s main goal this season, their deep hatred and rivalry turned this clash into an unmissable victory.
Milan shed their first blood at the half hour mark, thanks to their self-proclaimed God. Zlatan Ibrahimovic brought the ball back just outside the box, faked a shot to gain half a yard of space thanks to Aleksandar Kolarov’s recoil, and threw a low shot into the bottom corner of the goal. ‘Inter.
With that football kick, the derby exploded.
Ibrahimovic fanned the flames of that rivalry, denouncing opposing striker Lukaku, which led to an extremely unsavory and passionate exchange between the two. Dissatisfied with the exchange of inconvenience, the duo clashed – literally – forcing referee Paolo Valeri to wave yellow cards to the two culprits.
It was a moment of madness that defined and marred the match, with both players allowing the opportunity to gain the upper hand. Lukaku was visibly distressed by Ibrahimovic’s tirade, after the Swede appeared to insult the Belgian’s mother.
Ibra, on the other hand, wore the smirk of a man who had won the battle. He didn’t know, he would just cost his side the war.
This caution turned out to be crucial in the outcome of the game, as just 13 minutes into the second half, the Milan striker unnecessarily shot Kolarov down in midfield, and Valeri produced a second yellow, simultaneously giving Ibrahimovic his marching orders.
If I Rossoneri was feeling the brunt of the pressure from Inter before the dismissal, then they were now lying with a 400kg bar on their chest, while their watcher disappeared with no sign of returning.
Another 13 minutes passed and the next scene of this derby unfolded: Lukaku’s revenge.
Nicolo Barella was brought back into the box, and although Valeri allowed play to continue, he was told to go to the VAR pit and take another look at the incident. The referee overturned his initial decision and awarded the penalty, giving Inter’s star striker the chance to drive another nail into Milan’s coffin.
Lukaku hit the penalty with all the strength and anger of a man who had just suffered the humiliation of having his mother insulted on international television, pulling his shot off the crossbar. From that moment there will be only one winner.
The anticipation grew over the next ten minutes, as referee Valeri suffered a muscle injury and after bravely trying to continue he admitted defeat and left the pitch. The change of match official gave Inter time to collect their thoughts and prepare for a barrage of attacks, but for Milan it allowed painful embers of doubt to creep into their minds, aware of the enormity of the task at hand.
The current Serie A league leaders had substitute goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu to thank for keeping them on a level playing field, producing a series of wonderful saves to keep the beast from knocking on the door.
But an unexpected wolf stood nearby to blow up the house. Searching-unsuitable (and unwanted) Christian Eriksen banned (albeit momentarily) an entire year of pain in the 97th minute of the game, folding an unstoppable free-kick over Milan’s wall and into the top corner of Tatarusanu’s net.
This time, the backup guard had no answer. Nerazzurri’s players and bench erupted, Conte walked the sideline with delight and Eriksen finally smiles. And that was it. The night belonged to Milan’s blue and black half, and as the scores settled into the night, the narrative and hatred between the two only grew.
With Milan and Inter leading Serie A as it stands, and following further bloodshed, it’s safe to say – it will be one hell of a title race.