Inter Milan overpowered AC Milan early and held on to win the first leg of their Champions League semifinal derby 2-0 on Wednesday, leaving the Nerazzurri on the brink of a return to European soccer’s showpiece event for the first time since 2010.
Edin Džeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored two goals in three minutes to put Inter firmly in command and the visitors could have added more in a dominant first-half performance.
“We had an extraordinary first half, the scoreline was tighter than it should have been, with what we created,” Inter coach Simone Inzaghi said. “The guys were really great in managing such an emotional match.
“We have to continue like this. We know that we’re just one step away from a dream that we believed in from August until today.”
The second leg is on Tuesday, in what will surely be another special European night at San Siro. The winner will face either Real Madrid or Manchester City, who drew their first leg 1-1.
“I know my team, I know my players, I know we can do better. I know Inter is a very strong team, but we’re not any less.” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said. “It will be a difficult night mentally for both teams, the last chance to get into the final.
“We have the chance to put them in difficulty, to score goals, to try to get this back on track … We have to give everything we have — talent and heart — to turn around a situation that has become difficult but not impossible.”
Milan was missing key forward Rafael Leão, who hadn’t fully recovered from a thigh injury sustained over the weekend.
There was an electric atmosphere at San Siro for the semifinal that had been dubbed the “Euroderby” in Italy.
The two clubs met in the Champions League last four 20 years ago — with Milan winning on away goals and going on to beat Juventus in the final for its sixth of seven titles.
Several members of those teams from 2003 were in the stands, along with tennis great Novak Djokovic, who is a Milan fan.
The match was expected to be cagey and tight but Inter got off to the perfect start as it took the lead in the eighth minute. Hakan Çalhanoğlu whipped in a corner from the left and Džeko managed to get in front of Davide Calabria to hook a volley into the top right corner.
And Inter doubled its lead just three minutes later. Federico Dimarco’s low pass was wisely left by Lautaro Martínez for Mkhitaryan to lift over Mike Maignan.
Milan had only conceded one goal in its past six Champions League matches.
Incredibly, Inter almost scored a third five minutes later but Çalhanoğlu’s long-range effort came off the right post.
The Milan players were shellshocked but eventually managed to compose themselves and had their first attempt on goal on the half-hour mark but Calabria hit the side netting.
Seconds later, Inter was awarded a penalty for a foul by Simon Kjær on Martínez but the referee revoked his decision after reviewing the incident on the pitchside monitor.
Milan improved after the break and was shooting toward the end packed with its fans, in a sea of red and black.
Brahim Díaz curled wide of the left post early on but Inter was almost out of sight moments later. No one closed down Alessandro Bastoni and he threaded the ball through to Džeko but Maignan somehow managed to parry the shot with his foot.
The Rossoneri should have pulled one back in the 63rd minute but Sandro Tonali’s effort came off the base of the left post.
In the previous round, Inter beat Benfica 2-0 in Portugal before playing out a 3-3 draw at San Siro.
“This is obviously a derby, so it’s even more emotional,” Inzaghi said. “The lads know that we have to do exactly what we did against Benfica: not thinking about managing the match, but playing our own game, with the quality that we have shown on the field.”