The Milan derby didn’t disappoint on Wednesday night, and former AC Milan defender Alessandro Nesta insists: “Italian football is back”.
The San Siro hosted what talkSPORT presenter Hugh Woozencroft hailed as ‘the biggest Milan derby in a generation’ as Milan faced fierce rivals Inter Milan in the Champions League semi-finals.
It’s been 20 years since the noisy neighbours faced off in the final four of Europe’s biggest competition, two decades in which the landscape of the game has changed tremendously.
Fans from both clubs certainly embraced the occasion with a spine-tingling rendition of the Champions League anthem, with supporters belting out ‘the champions’ as is often the case in Italian Champions League matches, at the end of the music.
The 1980s and 1990s saw Italian football elevated to being the pinnacle of world football as the two Milan sides joined Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina and Parma as some of the most-talked about sides on the planet.
However, the vast increase in financial firepower in the English Premier League and the star-studded nature of the Spanish game, led by Real Madrid and Barcelona, meant that Italy’s product was left to diminish.
Years have gone by in which Italy’s biggest clubs were seen as nothing more than dark horses in Europe’s biggest competition, however, speaking before the match, Milan legend Nesta believes the times are changing.
Alessandro Nesta told BT Sport: “After years, we are back. Italian football is coming back and for us it’s very important.
Most read in Champions League
“Our generation was a good generation, we won a lot, but the last 15 or 20 years was tough for us. Tonight is a big day for us.”
Clarence Seedorf spent ten years playing for AC Milan and expressed his belief that the San Siro and the Milan derby are among the most special in world football.
He said: “I always consider this one of the best stadiums in the world. Not because I played here, but because of the atmosphere that can be created by the Italian fans as they’re singing all the time and creating that buzz.
“It’s very special. Derbies don’t happen at this level often in the Champions League so it’s pretty normal that such a long time passed by.
“When you have the opportunities to live these moments, you have to enjoy them.”
Despite pundits lamenting the lack of quality in both teams pre-match, the Milan derby got off to a frenetic start as Edin Dzeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan put Inter 2-0 up after just 11 minutes.
AC Milan were without star man Rafael Leao but they still managed to put in a spirited display, spurred on by their fiery, passionate ‘home’ supporters.
The Rossoneri packed out the Curva Sud – the home of AC Milan’s fiercest support – with chants, jeers, whistles and hostility designed to unsettle their fierce rivals.
Despite being 2-0 down, the Milan fans created huge noise in the second half as flares and fireworks were set off in the stands, demonstrating why the San Siro is renowned as arguably the most iconic stadium in world football.
It might have been a dry 15-20 years for Italian football but with either AC Milan or Inter Milan guaranteed to be playing in this year’s Champions League final, there’s every chance that football in Italy is very much on the rise again.
After all, no country in the world celebrates football with the same passion as the Italians.