For one team, it was a nightmarish start.
After weeks of hype surrounding Milan’s first Champions League derby since 2005, AC Milan trailed 2-0 within 11 minutes.
It hadn’t been planned. Before kick-off, the “home” supporters – both legs will be played at the San Siro – unfurled a gigantic devil’s head accompanied by the words: “Hell is empty, all the demons are here!”
But it was quickly heaven for Inter fans, thanks to goals from Edin Dezko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
“Everything that could have gone wrong for Milan has been done,” former AC Milan goalkeeper Asmir Begovic said at half-time.
“It’s an absolute disaster and one in their wildest dreams that they couldn’t have imagined.”
But after a host of missed chances at Inter Milan and a controversial video assistant referee decision, have AC Milan been given a lifeline they didn’t deserve?
“AC Milan had stage fright”
A Milan derby is always a memorable event, but one in European competition is something to savor.
Only twice before Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg had AC Milan faced fierce city rivals Inter on the continental stage and both sets of supporters were determined to make the most of it. best party.
AC Milan, the designated home team at the San Siro stadium which the two teams share, had by far the largest number of fans inside. A wall of noise, red smoke and large streamers create an intimidating atmosphere.
But it was the opposing team that came out strong. After taking a two-goal lead, they also hit the woodwork through Hakan Calhanoglu as AC Milan were exposed time and time again.
Inter were even awarded a first-half penalty for a foul on Lautaro Martinez before the decision was controversially overturned following a VAR review.
Inter Milan boss Simone Inzaghi said: “We played a brilliant first half, but it’s a tight scoreline for what we did there.
“It’s an extremely positive night that gives us a lot of satisfaction but we are missing one more piece to realize a dream we have believed in since August.”
Former Liverpool striker Peter Crouch said on BT Sport: “I found it weird that AC Milan were so passive. Inter could have been out of sight.”
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand added: “Inter came out like a group of sprinters at the Olympics and AC Milan got the jitters.”
“He fell to the ground”
The big decision came in the 31st minute. Inter were awarded a penalty as Martinez fell inside the box following a challenge from Simon Kjaer.
But when referee Jesus Gil Manzano was asked to check the pitchside monitor by VAR, the decision was overturned.
Manzano felt there wasn’t enough contact with Kjaer, who grabbed Martinez’s shirt before going down.
“He absolutely tried to scam the referee. He felt a hand on his waist and threw himself to the ground,” said BBC Radio 5 Live pundit and former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin.
“I’m glad the referee changed his mind.”
But others weren’t so sure.
“I think there is contact, so I’m surprised they called it off,” former Manchester United and Bayern Munich midfielder Owen Hargreaves told BT Sport.
“It’s a penalty. He gets cut and had an arm around him. If he feels something, he’s going to fall.
“Inter Milan were brilliant but with the penalty and the missed chances there will also be big regrets.”
Former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard added: “I think he kills himself by reaction. I think technically the penalty should have stood. The referee looks and thinks the contact is not enough for the reaction. He goes to the screen and sees that it’s minimal contact.”
“A world-class striker”
Inzaghi trusted the experience and it paid off as Dzeko, 37, opened the scoring after eight minutes before Mkhitaryan, 34, got the second.
It was the first time that two players aged 34 or over had scored for a team in a Champions League knockout tie.
“Dzeko is a world-class player,” said Begovic, who played alongside Dzeko for Bosnia and Herzegovina. “It’s no surprise to me that he does this, knowing him for 15 years. He’s a late game, technique, maybe he lacks a bit of rhythm.
“He is dedicated to the game, disciplined, takes care of himself impeccably. He leads the front line perfectly.”
Only one team in Champions League semi-final history has won the first leg by two or more goals and failed to reach the final – Barcelona, who lost a 3-0 lead to Liverpool in 2018 -19.
But, despite the two-goal advantage, Inter know their place in a first Champions League final since 2010 is yet to be booked.